R. SNOW writes: "Functionalists view any system in terms of the "job" it was created to do: its purpose or function" (1993, p.137).
She adds: "A simple example from elementary communications theory illustrates the functionalist point of view. Any communication system exists for the purpose of transmitting information from a sender to a receiver. This is its function, the essential property that defines is as a system. The sender, receiver, as well as the information that passes between them are all parts of the system's structure. This structure is subordinate to the function in two ways: 1) it does not serve to define the system and 2) it can be altered significantly – in some cases changed completely – without altering the system's identity. So, from the functionalist perspective, a communication system would still exist if one sender was replaced by two, or the information passed by means of satellite, telephone or shouting" (Ibid).
Functionalism is very close to 1st cybernetics, as noted by SNOW, who observes moreover that "… machine images do pervade much of this (cybernetic) literature" (p.141).
Also: "Functionalist theory is replete with binary oppositions and logical typing via categories"(p.143).
M.C. JACKSON observes that, in the case of human systems or organizations, functionalists "… study systems from the outside, seek causal regularities, believed that human beings can be understood scientifically and then dealt with as component parts of the system, and prefer quantitative techniques of analysis" (1992, p.70).
This mechanicist (and first cybernetic) view leads easily to manipulation in human systems: any "component", human or artifact, can always be replaced by any other one, similar in functional terms… and there is no more to it than just that. Of course, in such setting, individuals do not positively collaborate; they merely… function.
Within systemic concepts and models, functionalism offers merely specific ways to model some rather limited aspects of systems behavior.
- 1) General information
- 2) Methodology or model
- 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
- 4) Human sciences
- 5) Discipline oriented
To cite this page, please use the following information:
Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]
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