Neo – Functionalism 

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Neo – Functionalism 



American  sociologist Alexander is named as the father of neo-functionalism. But it is not so. In fact, neo-functionalism was born in Germany when Niklas Luhmann, rejecting Parsons’s functionalism, presented a new alternative to functionalism through his book ‘The Differentiation of Society’ (The Differentiation of Society, 1982). But this principle was duly announced by Geoffrey Alexander through his book ‘Neo-Functionalism’ (Neo-Functionalism, 1985) and named this theory as ‘Neo-Functionalism’. That is why the name of Alexander is taken as the father of neo-functionalism.

From the point of view of classical period, sociological theories can be placed in three categories –



Modern ,

post-modern and

New functionalism.

Sociological Theories In classical and modern sociological theories, many theories of accomplished sociologists like Comte, Durkheim, Spencer, Weber, Pareto, Sorokin and Merton etc. have their own importance, but the ‘functionalism’ of the intellectual master of sociology, Tolkat Parsons, is an excellent example of sociological theoretical tradition. . Functionalism has given identity to many sociologists. The functionalist theories of Spencer, Malinowski, Radcliffe Brown, and Merton are of great importance but not at par with Parsons. But around 1960, fingers started being raised on Parsons’s functionalism.

Some post-modern sociologists have found that Parsons’ functionalism has many shortcomings like ‘anti-individualism’, ‘anti-change’, ‘conservatism’, ‘idealism’ which are absolutely necessary to be overcome. To overcome these shortcomings, the new version of functionalism that came into existence is known as neo-functionalism. Neofunctionalism exists in Europe and America. Neofunctionalism in Europe is influenced by the ideas of Niklas Luhmann, Habermas and Anthony Giddens and Geoffrey Alexander on American neofunctionalism.





What is Neo – Functionalism 

Defining neo-functionalism, Alexander and Paul Colomi write – “It is a self-critical stream of functionalist theory that seeks to expand the intellectual realm of functionalism while retaining its doctrinal spirit.” Neo-functionalism is directly related to Parsons’s structuralist Inspired by functionalism, it has evolved. It also begins with Parsons and ends with it. Overall, the old artwork has been painted with new colors.


With regard to neo-functionalism, Alexander clearly says that it is not a developed theory, but only a trend.




New functionalism has been developed by many post-modern sociologists. Although it is still in construction stage and its success/failure is still in future trough. However, given the theoretical basis of neo-functionalism, its success can be expected. Geoffrey Alexander, Niklas Luhmann, Paul Colomy, Richard Munch, Neil Smelser, Mark Gould and George Ritzer are the main thinkers of neofunctionalism. Here the contribution of Geoffrey Alexander as the main thinker of neo-functionalism will be discussed.


Neo Functionalism of Jeffrey Alexander 


Geoffrey Alexander, the leading thinker of neo-functionalism, was born in America in 1947. His education took place at Harvard University, USA. Inspired by the neo-left Marxist ideology, Alexander actively participated in student movements. After completion of education, Alexander became a teacher at Varkle University and Ph. D . Also received the degree. Alexander is currently the Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of California, USA. Jeffrey Alexander Alexander has been influenced by Marxist ideology, so he is counted among the neo-functionalist as well as the neo-leftist Marxists. According to Alexander, Neo-Left Marxism does not accept the economic determinism of traditional Marxism because Neo-Left Marxism has again restored the place of the doer in history which was completely forgotten by Marxism. But in 1970, due to circumstances, Alexander was disillusioned with Neo-Marxism. Alexander’s major work is ‘Theoretical Logic in Sociology’ which was published in four volumes in 1982-83. In this book, he has done the work of theoretical coordination. Through this book, Alexander started opposing Parsons. This book is considered equivalent to the works of Parsons. Parsons emphasized on positivism in sociological studies, but Alexander through this book has emphasized on post-positivism in sociological studies.


The main works of Alexander are as follows

Theoritical Logic in Sociology ,  1982-83

Neo Functionalism , 1985
Twenty Lectures : Social Theory Since World War II , 1987
Durkheimian Sociology : Cultural Studies ( ed. ), 1988
Action and its Environments , 1988
Fir – de – Siecle Social Theory , 1995
Neo Functionalism and Beyond , 1998



Parsons’ functionalism is explained in a new style. This is Alexander’s new functionalism. He was not satisfied with some of the assumptions of Parsons’s functionalism. Alexander has presented his ideas while trying to overcome those shortcomings. It is necessary to briefly understand these thoughts of Alexander in a point-by-point manner.


Opposition to Positivism

He is of the opinion that sociology should pay attention to the theoretical element along with experience. If we take care of experience only, then new conclusions will not be able to come out. The theory is that the combination of empiricism and theoretician would encourage rationality in sociology. This post-positivist approach to the theory puts him in the domain of special sociologists.


In sociological studies, positivism was propounded by Auguste Comte. Positivism is another name for experience based studies. Many eminent sociologists have supported positivism. Even Parsons’ functionalism is based on positivism. Alexander does not accept positivism. Positivism has one major drawback of its own. Suppose a theory was formed on the basis of positivism. “The upper class is more luxurious than the middle or lower class. “Now whenever a researcher will go to the field to study on this subject, he will collect facts in the study area on the basis of this principle because facts are not collected against the theory. Due to this deficiency, Alexander has presented post-positivism.

The concept of action and order


He has not accepted Parsons’s interpretation of action and law. In relation to action and order, Alexander is of the opinion that there can be two purposes of the doer behind performing any action – either he finds that action useful or else he does that action only to maintain order. This concept of action and order is found only in neo functionalism.

Alexander wants to give a new theoretical argument to sociology. This intention of his is seen in his book ‘Theoretical Logic in Sociology’. For this he has introduced the concept of action and order. Both these concepts can be used in any logic of sociology.


New Explanation of Functionalism –

The term functionalism has been defined by many sociologists. It is most clearly defined by Robert Merton. He has also given its three meanings-

(i) In general, a function means a function.

(ii) Mathematically it implies causation. And

(iii) In sociology, function refers to action and order.


Alexander is not satisfied with the functional meanings of Merton. He has disagreed on the nomenclature of functionalism in his book ‘Neo-functionalism’ (Neo-functionalism, 1985). He has presented functionalism as follows


We should look at the whole society from an open and pluralistic point of view, that is, every area of ​​the society should be studied from every point of view.


We should not only focus on positive social processes but also on negative or disruptive social processes. Negative social processes are the reality of society. By centering both types of processes, there is a possibility of integration.


We should not oppose social differentiation. Social differentiation is essential for social change. At the same time, it is necessary to clarify the concepts used in sociology in a free way.


In the interpretation of action and structure, we should keep in mind that they both influence each other. That’s how they should be studied. Not considering the two as separate.




Society, culture and personality are different concepts. These should be seen separately.



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