[PDF Notes] Short notes on the Structural-functional derivative

Almond understood governments as systems and social structures and institutions as performing certain functions in this system. He compared a government and its functions to an organism with various organs, performing certain roles, understood and important only when analyzing an organism as a whole.

The same becomes true for a government: the role of parties or administrative agencies is understood only in the larger context of the government as a whole. This theory became known as a functional-system theory assuming three conditions:

1. Functional requisites:

activities essential to the existence of a society, such as “adaptation to the natural environment, differentiation of and recruitment to social roles, the maintenance of a common body of knowledge and beliefs, the socialization of the young, and the control of disruptive behavior” (185).

2. Interdependence:

Assumes interconnectedness of all parts of the system; a change in one part affects the whole system (for example an emergence of mass media would affect the domestic political system as a whole).

3. Equilibrium:

Social systems tend toward status quo (equilibrium) and change comes slowly.

Functional requisites must be performed in such a way as to ensure equilibrium of the whole system to be functional. When they result in disequilibrium, they are referred to as dysfunctional. The functions give the system its identity and enable it to operate on two levels: external-as an organism in its environment and internal-as processes happening inside the organism.

The functional-system theory was criticized for the lack of scientific status, for its artificial nature borrowed from biology and unnaturally applied to social sciences, for the impossibility to provide operationalization of variables maintaining the system in equilibrium, and most of all, for what was believed to be a static tendency of the theory, emphasizing “the functionality of institutions and the equilibrium of social systems” (186). In addition, the theory assumed equal importance of all institutions within the system and did not explain sufficiently the interaction of social system with its environment.

In an attempt to improve the applicability of the theory, Almond introduced the idea of a boundary: similarly to an organism, a political system has to begin and end somewhere. It is a fictional boundary between one system and another, or polity and economy. As Almond explained:-

“There are boundaries between general affective and value tendencies, and political attitudes and choices” (188).

Furthermore, to address the insufficient explanation of interaction of the social system with its environment, Almond established the division of the interactions into three phases: input, conversion and output, defining inputs and outputs as transactions between the system and its environment and conversion as ways inherent in the system in which inputs are transformed into outputs. Those factors fulfill a dual role of marking the boundaries of the political system.

Almond analyzed the performance of the political system in terms of “capabilities,” or the external operation of the system, and “conversion functions,” or the internal structure and operation of the system, and the system’s maintenance and adaptation functions.

As the author asserted, a change in capabilities results in the change in the system-or political development. Using David Easton’s assumptions, inputs are divided into two categories: demands (demands for goods and services, demands for regulation of behavior, demands for participation in the political system, and symbolic inputs such as demands for the display of the majesty and power of the system) and supports (material supports, obedience to laws and regulations, political participation, manifestation of deference to public authority, symbols, and ceremonials.) There are also four classes of transactions that match up with the supports and may be responsive to demands: extractions, regulations of behavior, allocations or distributions of goods and services, symbolic outputs (192- 193).

A stable political system provides a set of structures that convert inputs into outputs. These conversions then result in certain external and internal capabilities of the system, enabling the characterization of and observation of change in the performance of the system, its comparison with other systems according to their performance.

The capabilities can be classified into five categories: extractive (extraction of resources), regulative (regulation of behavior), distributive (distribution of goods and services), symbolic (symbolic behavior on the parts of elites), and responsive (degree of sensitivity to demands from the internal and external environment), and all five serve as functional requisites. Changes in capability are caused by interaction of certain kinds of input with the political system, such as unemployment would cause demands for jobs which would in turn result in change of policy. The way a system copes with those changes determines its functionality or dis-functionality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *