The concept of Latent Functions or Latent Dysfunctions in Merton’s Approach essay sample

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The concept of Latent Functions or Latent Dysfunctions in Merton’s Approach

Question: Why is the concept of Latent Functions or Latent Dysfunctions so crucial in Merton’s Approach? Merton is a founder and the main contributor of the functional theory in sociology. According to this theory, society is organized from different parts that form its structure and help maintain its stability. However, in spite of the mentioned structure there are deviations from the norm. The latent functions and latent dysfunctions described by Merton were meant to explain this deviational behavior.

The acknowledgment of the existence of latent functions and latent dysfunctions are important as they make the functional theory more appropriate to life conditions. In this case Merton admitted that not all parts of the system serve to its stability. The latent functions relate to the unconscious or unintended functions that could have institutions. As an example could be taken universities that are supposed to give knowledge to students; the latent function of universities could be influence on unemployment level or growing of the civil activity of students. That means that society as a structure is a complicated mechanism and some institutions could execute few functions that are not so obvious or visible.In case of the latent dysfunctions, Merton’s idea was to explain the deviations from the common behavior in social structure. The most important here is that this approach permits to accept deviation as the socially created phenomenon that could create disorder in the system with as negative (crimes, violence), so positive consequences (innovators, creators of the new world). In spite of the double nature of the latent dysfunctions, this term helps to understand and explain the development and changes in society.

Due to this sociological term it is possible to accept alternatives rather than interpret them as the problem or deviation. The Merton’s theory is actively using for analyzing the deviational behavior and is crucial for the sociology. Distinguishing of the latent functions and latent dysfunctions are crucial for the Merton’s approach as they permit to explain the complexity of the society; make such processes like progress, revolution, crimes or suicide possible in society; admit that initial social structure proclaimed by the functional theory is dynamic, changeable and adapting. Moreover, presence of latent functions proves that the precise planning of the social structure is impossible and the system will regulate itself with concern of the various latent functions and will be changed and corrected with the help of the latent dysfunctions. These are the most important factors of the Merton’s approach.


Ritzer, George. Contemporary Sociological Theory And It's Classical Roots. 4th ed. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2012. …

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