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latent function

Definition of Latent Function

(noun) Unanticipated and unintended consequences of an action or social structure; unknown or unacknowledged reasons something is done.

Examples of Latent Function

Note: There is a manifest function for each of these examples.

  • cell phones: Distracted driving.
  • clothing: Serves as an indication of status.
  • marriage ceremony: Indicates a couple is committed to each other and thus communicates to potential partners to stay away; provides household goods and gifts; creates alliances and redefines family categorizations (e.g., in-laws).
  • schooling: Encourages the development of youth cultures that often conflict with parental or State values.
  • war: Increases feelings of patriotism and jingoism; profiteering from manufacturing and infrastructure development.

Latent Function Pronunciation

Usage Notes

  • Plural: latent functions
  • Latent functions are a key aspect of functional analysis.
  • A latent function derives from a manifest function, they complement each other.
  • Latent functions are often negative, and manifest functions are often positive but depending on the subject this distinction is not clear. One group’s negative outcome, is a positive outcome to another group.
  • Latent functions are often hard to observe and measure.
  • Functions and dysfunctions along with latent and manifest functions were theorized by Robert Merton (1910–2003) in Social Theory and Social Structure (1949, revised in 1957 and 1968).

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Works Consulted

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Cite the Definition of latent function

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2015. “latent function.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved August 21, 2019 (https://sociologydictionary.org/latent function/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

latent function. (2015). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/latent function/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2015. “latent function.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed August 21, 2019. https://sociologydictionary.org/latent function/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“latent function.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2019. <https://sociologydictionary.org/latent-function/>.