Dictionary Home
AnthroBase Home
Bookmark, cite or print this page

A theoretical orientation in anthropology, developed by Bronislaw Malinowski. Functionalism is similar to Radcliffe-Brown's structural functionalism, in that it is holistic and posits that all cultural "traits" are functionally interrelated and form an integrated social whole. But while structural functionalism stated (in Durkheim's spirit) that the function of the part was to maintain the whole, functionalism posited that all parts of society functioned to satisfy the individual's biological needs. Functionalism was thus a less system-oriented theory than structural functionalism and more oriented towards the individual. It was also more open toward social change. Thus, although functionalism was largely eclipsed by structural functionalism in British anthropology after 1930, it experienced a resurgence when structural functionalism was attacked (largely for lacking any means of conceptualizing social change) by the methodological individualists of the 1950's. Aside from Malinowski, his students Raymond Firth and Audrey Richards were the most prominent practitioners of functionalism. Edmund Leach was also originally a functionalist.