Structural Functionalism is one of three major theoretical frameworks in sociology. Those who support framework see society as a nuanced and complex system comprised of parts that work together to create a stable or unstable society.¹ Society is a machine and if one party breaks, the structure of all of society will break - leading to bad consequences.
Generally, functionalists see events in society as a consequence of how effectively or ineffectively the parts of society work together.
Structural Functionalism has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim. One of Durkheim’s biggest contributions to the works of sociology is the concept of anomie. Anomie is a societal state in which the structure of society is unstable and disorganized.¹ Functionalists generally view anomie as the consequence of a broken part of the machine, leading to deviance and other negative consequences.
Functionalists generally interpret parts of society in terms of how they contribute to the stability of the entire society. Basically, society is more than sum of its parts and each part of society is dependent on all other parts for the functionality of the machine.
For example, in most of North America, the government provides free public education to families. These families pay taxes to keep the state and its social programs running. Families also depend on the education system that depends on government for funding to raise their children into law abiding citizens who will eventually help support the state.¹
1. About. Functionalist Theory. Retrieved May 7, 2014, from http://sociology.about.com/od/Sociological-Theory/a/Functionalist-Theory.htm