Structural Functionalism: School and Elements of Social Structure

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Radcliffe Brown of Britain established a separate school of anthropological thought known as, ‘Structural School’. Brown assimilated the concept of function and structure; he and his followers are also known as ‘Structural- functionalists’.

Radcliffe Brown of Britain

Radcliffe Brown of Britain

Brown has taken the concept of function from biology. He has compared social life and biological life. He is of the view that as different cells have functions interrelated and interdepe1ndent, structure of society also comprises network of status and roles which reveal status and functions of individuals.

Structural-Functional School

Structural-functional School

Structural-Functional School

  • The concept of structure and function appeared for the first time in the writings of Herbert Spencer in his book, ‘Principles of Sociology’, where he dealt with fundamental similarities between organism and society.

  • It also appeared in the writings of French anthropology, Emile Durkheim, in his books entitled, Division of Labour (1893) and Rules of Sociological Method (1895). Durkheim is of the view that structural units of society such as family, religion, kinship, political and economic organization contribute valuable function for maintaining the order of society.

  • Radcliffe-Brown, the chief pioneer of British School of Structural functionalism, opines that “components of social structures are human beings, the structure itself being an arrangement of persons in relationship institutionally defined and regulated.

  • S.F. Nadel in his famous book, The Theory of Social Structure writes that we arrive at the structure of society through abstracting from the concrete population and its behavior patterns of network of relations obtaining between actors and in their capacity of playing roles relative to one another.

Meanings and Definitions as suggested by different scholars, the following conclusions may be drawn:

  • Social Structure is an abstract and intangible phenomenon.

  • As individuals are units of associations and institutions, so these institutions are the units of social structure.

  • Institutions and associations are interrelated in a particular arrangement and, thus, create the pattern of social structure.

  • It refers to external aspect of society which is relatively stable as compare to functional or internal aspect of society.

Elements of Social Structure

In a social structure, human beings organize themselves into associations and institutions for the pursuit of some object or objects. There are principles that set the elements of social structure in motion, which are as follows:

Normative System

It presents the society with the ideas and values. The people attach emotional importance to these norms. The institutions and associations are interrelated according to these norms. The individuals perform their roles in accordance with the accepted norms of the society.

Positive System

It refers to status and roles of the individuals. The desires, aspirations, and expectations of individuals are varied, multiple and unlimited. So, these can be fulfilled only if the members of society are assigned different roles according to their capabilities and capacities. In fact, proper functioning of society depends upon proper assignment of roles and status.

Sanction System

For the proper enforcement of norms, every society has a sanction system. The integration and co-ordination of different parts of social structure depends upon conformity to social norms. The non-conformists are punished by the society. The stability of a structure depends upon the effectiveness of the sanction system

A System of Anticipated Responses

The anticipated response systems calls upon the individuals to participate in the social system. His preparation sets the social structure in motion. The successful working of social structure depends upon the realization of his duties by the individual and his efforts to fulfill these duties.

Action Systems

It is the object or goal to be arrived at by the social structure. The social structure revolves round it. The action is the root cause which weaves the web of social relationships and sets the social structure in motion.


Q1. Who is the author of ‘The Web of Kinship Among the Tallency’

  1. Levies Strauss

  2. Mayer Fortes

  3. S.F. Nadel

  4. Raymond Firth

Answer: B. Mayer Fortes

Q2. Radcliffe Brown compared social structure to.

  1. an industry

  2. a structure of an atom

  3. biological life

  4. status and role of individual

Answer: C. biological life

Q3. Which of the following philosophers do not conform with Structural- functionalism.

  1. Evans Pritchard

  2. G. P. Mudrock

  3. Levies Strauss

  4. Robert Redfield

Answer: (d) Robert Redfield


#Elements of Social Structure.

#Definitions of Social Structure by different philosophers

# Anthropological theories

#Socio-cultural anthropology


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