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
Syllabification: la·tent func·tion
- American English – /lAYt-nt fUHngkshUHn/
- British English – /lAY-tuhnt fUHngkshUHn/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈleɪtənt ˈfʌŋkʃən/
- British English – /ˈleɪtənt ˈfʌnŋkʃən/
- 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).
Related Online Discussions
- What’s one rule that your school/workplace has implemented that absolutely backfired? – Ask Reddit: reddit.com
Brym, Robert J., and John Lie. 2007. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Collins English Dictionary: Complete and Unabridged. 6th ed. 2003. Glasgow, Scotland: Collins.
Dillon, Michele. 2014. Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts, and their Applicability to the Twenty-First Century. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Ferrante, Joan. 2011a. Seeing Sociology: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Ferrante, Joan. 2011b. Sociology: A Global Perspective. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. 2010. The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology. 2nd ed. New York: Norton.
Griffiths, Heather, Nathan Keirns, Eric Strayer, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Tommy Sadler, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry, Faye Jones. 2016. Introduction to Sociology 2e. Houston, TX: OpenStax.
Henslin, James M. 2012. Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. 10th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2011. Sociology: The Core. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Jary, David, and Julia Jary. 2000. Collins Dictionary of Sociology. 3rd ed. Glasgow, Scotland: HarperCollins.
Kendall, Diana. 2011. Sociology in Our Times. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Kimmel, Michael S., and Amy Aronson. 2012. Sociology Now. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Macionis, John. 2012. Sociology. 14th ed. Boston: Pearson.
Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.
Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. 1997. New York: Random House.
Ravelli, Bruce, and Michelle Webber. 2016. Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective. 3rd ed. Toronto: Pearson.
Schaefer, Richard. 2013. Sociology: A Brief Introduction. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. 2005. A Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Shepard, Jon M. 2010. Sociology. 11th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Shepard, Jon M., and Robert W. Greene. 2003. Sociology and You. New York: Glencoe.
Stolley, Kathy S. 2005. The Basics of Sociology. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Thompson, William E., and Joseph V. Hickey. 2012. Society in Focus: An Introduction to Sociology. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Tischler, Henry L. 2011. Introduction to Sociology. 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2015. “latent function.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved October 2, 2022 (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 October 2, 2022. https://sociologydictionary.org/latent function/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“latent function.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2015. Web. 2 Oct. 2022. <https://sociologydictionary.org/latent-function/>.