Definition of Function
(noun) Any consequence of social structures that positively affect society and impacts structural continuity.
- Plural: functions
- Dysfunctions and functions along with latent functions and manifest functions were theorized by Robert Merton (1910–2003) in Social Theory and Social Structure (1949, revised in 1957 and 1968).
- “But it is not enough that rules exist, for sometimes these very rules are the cause of evil. This is what happens in class-wars. The institution of classes or castes constitutes one organization of the division of labour, one that is strictly regulated. Yet it is often a source of dissension. When the lower classes are not, or no longer satisfied with the role allotted to them through custom or law, they aspire to functions forbidden to them, and try to dispossess those who exercise these functions. From this arise civil wars, which are due to the way in which work is distributed” (Durkheim  2004:37).
- “It is not our thesis that the specific nature of a religion is a simple ‘function‘ of the social situation of the stratum which appears as its characteristic bearer, or that it represents the stratum’s ‘ideology’, or that it is a ‘reflection’ of a stratum’s material or ideal interest-situation” (Weber 1948:269–70).
- “The determining cause of a social fact must be sought among antecedent social facts preceding it and not among the states of the individual consciousness . . . The function of a social fact must always to be sought in its relationship to some social end” (Durkheim  2004:61).
- “The function of any recurrent activity, such as the punishment of a crime, or a funeral ceremony, is the part it plays in the social life as a whole and therefore the contribution it makes to the maintenance of the structural continuity. The concept of function as here defined thus involves the notion of a structure consisting of a set of relations amongst unit entities, the continuity of the structure being maintained by a life-process made up of the activities of the constituent units” (Radcliffe-Brown 1935:396).
- “When one undertakes to explain a social phenomenon, one must study separately the efficient cause which produces it and the function it fulfils . . . For example, the social reaction which constitutes punishment is due to the intensity of the collective sentiments that the crime offends. On the other hand, its useful function is to maintain these sentiments at the same degree of intensity, for they would soon diminish if the offences committed against them went unpunished” (Durkheim  2004:59).
- “Without distorting the meaning of this expression, we can, in fact, call all beliefs and all modes of behaviour instituted by the collectivity ‘institutions‘; sociology can then be defined as the science of institutions, their genesis and their functioning” (Durkheim  2004:46).
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Durkheim, Émile.  2004. “The Rules of Sociological Method.” Pp. 43–63 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.
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ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “function.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved August 22, 2019 (https://sociologydictionary.org/function/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
function. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/function/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “function.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed August 22, 2019. https://sociologydictionary.org/function/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“function.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 22 Aug. 2019. <https://sociologydictionary.org/function/>.