The functional imperatives of Talcott Parsons dominated the field throughout his entire life. Talcott Parson viewed society as a collection of interacting units, organizations and institutions. In his mind, social systems came about to give solution to particular problems in the society. Parson’s main goal was to integrate personality and social systems (Ritzer 1992, 22).
According to Parson, any action system, if it is to preserve its equilibrium, it must meet four functional imperatives largely known as AGIL scheme: the function of pattern maintenance, the function of goal attainment, the function of adaptation, and the function of integration. The above functional imperatives provided what Parsons viewed as a complex and systematic account of social phenomena which had previously been explained in terms of unitary causes.
The functional imperatives can be viewed as problems that a society must address in order to survive. The function of any part of the social system is viewed as its input in achieving the functional imperatives. Parson relates the four functional imperatives to 4 action systems. The function of adaptation is performed by behavioral organism, the function of goal attainment is performed by personality system, the function of integration is performed by social system while, the function of latency is performed by cultural system.
Parson refers the first set of functional problems as “goal attainment” and “adaptation”. These problems deal with instrumental actions and largely affect the relationship between system and external environment. The second set of functional problems Parsons refers to are “latent pattern” and integration. These problems largely deal with the social system’s internal organization.
Parson also associated the 4 functional imperatives to 4 sub-systems in the society. For instance, the function of adaptation was associated with the economy through labor, resources allocation and production. The political system performed the function of goal attainment through determination of social goals and resource mobilization. The fiduciary system performed the function of latency through passing norms and values.
The function of Adaptation ‘A’ revolves around the relationship between the system and the environment. It is an external environmental problem that refers to the process through which the social system procures and distributes the resources it needs for its activities (Treviño 2001). In many instances, a system has limited resources, and when objectives are many, often one objective is omitted in order for the resources to be used to attain the alternative objective.
Generally, function of adaptation focuses on the economic organization of the society. For example, the United States economy largely depends on non renewable forms of energy such as oil and fossil fuels. However, it will reach a point that the United States will have to shift to alternative sources of energy, that is, to adapt to emerging environmental conditions.
The function of goal-attainment ‘G’ is an external environmental problem. It refers to the social system’s formulation of goals and the motivation and mobilization of resources directed to achieve those goals (Treviño 2001). Procedures for formulating goals and making decisions on priorities between goals are institutionalized in the form political systems. Government institutions not only formulate goals, but also set aside resources to achieve them. For instance, to win the “War on Terrorism” is a goal for the entire American society. To achieve this goal, the American government has mobilized financial, technological, manpower and military resources in fight against terror.
The function of integration “I” is an internal organization problem concerned with processes that ensures the coordination of the various relations that make up the social system for the purpose of producing an organization that can avoid major interruptions that the system may face. In the control hierarchy, integration comes in between the functions of goal attainment and pattern. Any system consists of different units that are interrelated and have to work in coordination. This is the function that Parsons refers to as the legal system. All the units involved in legal regulations needs to coordinate the actions of groups and individuals in a systematic manner. When conflict arises in the social system, it is analyzed and settled by the judicial system. As a result, disintegration of the social system is avoided.
The function of latent pattern maintenance is also an internal organization problem and is referred as processes whereby the social system maintains normative patterns and manages the strains of tension factors (Treviño 2001). Simply, this function largely entails the rewards and bonuses offered to keep members motivated. For example, American society values economic success, such values and norms are passed to the next generation through what Parsons called the fiduciary system. Institutions that perform this function include religion, education system, and families.
Talcott Parsons maintained that any social system can be analyzed in terms of functional imperatives. He further states that if a social system is able to fulfill these 4 functional prerequisites, the social system will be considered functional and balanced.
For example, the Soviet Union is considered one of the social systems that were unable to fulfill any of these functional imperatives. As a result, the economy was unproductive, corruption emanated within the political system and the law was considered as a system of political repression.
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