Structural-Functional Approach has been a very popular and useful approach to the study of Politics as Political System. It seeks to study Political System as a set of functions performed by several structures which together constitute the system of politics.
It seeks to identify and analyse the structures which constitute the political system and perform several functions both internally and vis-a-vis other societies.
Structural-Functional Approach seeks to analyse: what basic functions are performed by what political structures? Charles worth explains the crux of this approach in a very simple way.
He writes, “The structural part of the approach refers to any human organisation that can do things and have an effect on human beings and other human organisations, viz., a family, a public corporation, a court, a bureau, or a legislative body.
The functions part relates to the activity of the agency and its external effects.” These, according to some, are divided into “latent” and “manifest”, meaning that the latter are intentional and the former incidental or accidental.”
Origin and Development of the Structural-Functional Approach:
The Structural-Functional analysis originated in the biological and mechanical sciences. In the social sciences, it was first used in Anthropology. Later on it was developed and refined as a mode of sociological analysis, predominantly by Talcott Parsons and Marion Levy.
It has been under the influence of the sociologists, particularly these two, that the Structural-Functional Approach has come to be developed by political scientists, particularly by Gabriel A. Almond and his associates.
In 1960, Almond and Coleman, in their work ‘The Politics of Developing Areas,’ used this approach for the study of non-Western political systems. Six years later, Almond and Bingham Powell published their work ‘Comparative Politics: A Development Approach’.
In this, they came out with the Structural-Functional Approach designed to study and classify political systems in terms of the levels of their political development.
The Structural-Functional Approach has several strong exponents and supporters, but more them, a place of primacy belong to Almond and his co-authors.
Structural-Functionalism: Definition and Assumptions:
Davies and Lewis are of the view that “the Structural-Functional analysis is a form of systemic analysis which looks at political systems as coherent wholes which influence and are, in turn influenced by their environments.”
Each political system is characterised by ‘legitimate force’ which is the basis of all its activities. The interactions (functions) which characterise political systems take place not between individuals, but the roles individuals adopt. These are the basic units of the Structural-Functional analysis.’
“That all systems have structures which can be identified and that the parts or elements of these structures perform functions within the system which have meaning only in terms of the working of the system.
They are dependent on the system as an active entity for their existence, and are, in turn, linked in such a way as to be also dependent on each other for their activity.
Accordingly, this analysis regards comprehensiveness, interdependence and boundaries as the three properties of the political system.”
Structural-Functional Approach in Politics:
The Structural-functional approach revolves mainly around two concepts: Structure and Functions. This approach ‘is a means of explaining which political structures perform which basic functions in the political system and it is a tool of investigation.’
In the words of Samuel H. Beer and Adam B. Ulam, “The survival and maintenance of a social system require that society must be having a well-functioning economic system, a legal system, a system of values and so on.
In this scheme, the political system would appear as that sub-system performing the distinctive function of making legitimate policy decisions, or to use a shorter expression, the function of goal attainment for the society of which it is a part.”
Let us know the meaning of these two concepts which are central to this approach.
Concept of Structures:
In the structural-functional analysis, while functions concern the consequences of the patterns of action, the structures refer to those arrangements within the system which perform the functions. Functions are, therefore, performed by many different structural arrangements in any given system.
In the words of Harry Eckstein, “We tend no longer to think of political systems solely as sovereign states and their formal sub-divisions but as any ‘collective decision-making structures’, or as structures for authoritatively collecting social values or as structures that perform the function of ‘maintaining the integration of society or as structures that perform the functions of the integration and adaptation of societies by means of the employment, or threat of employment’, of more or less physical compulsion, and in many other ways in a similar vein.”