Functionalism in Sociology

Functionalism in Sociology

Functionalism in Sociology differentiated and heterogeneity gave rise to conflicting concerns among different sectors of the population. As the paradigm ...

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Functionalism in Sociology differentiated and heterogeneity gave rise to conflicting concerns among different sectors of the population. As the paradigm expanded further, new charges were made that functionalism could not accommodate the analysis of power.

4. Conclusion The radical antipositivism of the 1960s put functionalism on trial. Functional anthropologists who declined to commit anthropology to the scrap heap argued ethnography’s value as social history. Others argued its continued relevance for specific subfields such as ecological and applied anthropology. It is not likely that future theoretical and research problems will follow the trends set by functionalism except, perhaps, in re-evaluations of problems in Foucault’s adoption of functional terminology in his conceptualization of ‘discourse’; in the work of anthropologists who holistically find instances of cultural resistance to what they perceive to be Gramscian style ‘hegemony’; and in the relationship of anthropological functionalism to other modernisms (Webster, in Manganaro 1990). The main thrust is likely to be the further undercutting of the two pluralized concepts integral to functionalism: ‘cultures’ and ‘societies’ (Wolf 1988, Barth 1992). This new emergent paradigm, ‘New Critical Theory,’ retains functionalism on its agenda, albeit in a literary and historical mode. It promises to further problematics addressed by anthropological historical realism (sometimes in the guise of political economy) and postinterpretive cultural critique. In both instances, functionalism, in anthropology, lingers on (just as evolutionism and diffusionism linger on) not just as situated knowledge ever in the making but as historical ethnography of the operations of culture. See also: Anthropology, History of; Functionalism, History of; Functionalism in Sociology; Malinowski, Bronislaw (1884–1942); Parsons, Talcott (1902–79)

Bibliography Barth F 1992 Towards greater naturalism in conceptualizing societies. In: Kuper A (ed.) Conceptualizing Society. Routledge, London and New York Fox R G (ed.) 1991 Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM Gellner E 1987 The Zeno of Cracow, or revolution at Nemi, or the Polish revenge. In: Culture, Identity and Politics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK Malinowski B 1944 A Scientific Theory of Culture, and Other Essays. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC Manganaro M (ed.) 1990 Modernist Anthropology: From Fieldwork to Text. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ Mead M (ed.) 1937 Cooperation and Competition among Primitie Peoples. McGraw-Hill, New York Mintz S W (ed.) 1985 History, Eolution, and the Concept of Culture: Selected Papers by Alexander Lesser. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK

Radcliffe-Brown A R 1935 On the concept of function in social science. American Anthropologist 37: 394–402 (reprinted 1952 in Structure and Function in Primitie Society. Free Press, Glencoe, IL, pp. 178–87) Sahlins M D 1976 Culture and Practical Reason. University of Chicago Press, Chicago Sanjek R (ed.) 1990 Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY Stocking G W Jr. (ed.) 1991 Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethrographic Knowledge. History of Anthropology. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, Vol. 7 Stocking G W Jr. 1992 The Ethnographer’s Magic and Other Essays in the History of Anthropology. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI Stocking G W Jr. (ed.) 1996 Volksgeist as Method and Ethic: Essays on Boasian Ethnography and the German Anthropological Tradition. History of Anthropology, Vol. 8. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI Thornton R 1985 Imagine yourself set down …: Mach, Frazer, Conrad, Malinowski and the role of imagination in ethnography. Anthropology Today 1(5): 7–14 Thornton R J, Skalnik P (eds.) 1993 The Early Writings of Bronislaw Malinowski. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK Urry J 1993 Before Social Anthropology. Essays on the History of British Anthropology. Harwood, Chur, Switzerland Vincent J 1986 Functionalism revisited: An unsettled science. Reiews in Anthropology 13: 331–9 Vincent J 1991 Engaging historicism. In: Fox R G (ed.) Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM Wolf E 1988 Inventing society. American Ethnologist 15(4): 752–61

J. Vincent

Functionalism in Sociology Functionalism is a sociological research program of historical and systematic significance. Sociological explanations in terms of functions are teleological: social phenomena are to be explained by their effects and consequences—chiefly of a beneficial, morally desired or non-intended character—and\or by a circuit of equilibration (a homeostatic loop) which is maintaining a certain state of proper functioning. The notion of (mono-)functionally specialized subsystems of society can be seen as the most important precipitate of functionalist thinking in sociology.

1. Basic Extra-disciplinary Orientations of Sociological Functionalism Beginning with the renaissance, the quest for a truly empirical analysis in the natural sciences has given the concept of function a crucial leverage in replacing the metaphysical notion of substance (Cassirer 1980). Substance has been recast as the functional interdependence of (minimally two) related variables. In 5847

Functionalism in Sociology sociology functionalist thinking has spread with the works of Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, and E; mile Durkheim, who drew on contemporary physiology and evolutionary biology as the disciplines that offered the most sophisticated notions of functional interdependence so far. Of crucial significance for the development of sociological functionalism is the work of Harvard University’s biochemist and physiologist Lawrence Joseph Henderson, who played the role of a mediator between physiology and sociology as regards equilibrating processes. In his famous seminar ‘Pareto and the Methods of Scientific Investigation’ (1932–42) Henderson exerted considerable influence on several generations of Harvard sociologists, among them Robert K. Merton and Talcott Parsons, who became leading figures in the movement of functionalist thinking in the USA. The basic ideas of a refined sociological functionalism originate within this context.

1.1 System, Interdependence, Equilibrium A mixture of ice, soda water, and whisky in a tightly stoppered thermos bottle can serve as an example for an isolated system of different components: water, alcohol, and carbon dioxide are its main components. There are three phases: a solid phase (ice), a liquid phase, and a gaseous phase. All three components exist in the liquid and the gaseous phase in this system. Concentration, pressure, and temperature form a set of related variables. If one thrusts the stopper more deeply into the neck of the bottle the pressure will increase and there will be a movement of components from the gaseous phase to the liquid phase; there will also be a change in concentration and temperature. All variables that characterize the system stand in a relation of mutual dependency with one another and make up an equilibrated state (Henderson 1935). If the system exhibits a minimal complexity, its internal process cannot be conceptualized as a temporal succession of single cause–effect chains any more. The alternative is the simultaneous variation of interdependent, but relatively autonomous, variables. The two single most important sources of Henderson’s analysis of systems are Claude Bernard’s experimental physiology—which deeply impressed Durkheim as well—and Josiah Willard Gibbs’ research On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances (Gibbs 1948), which decisively extends the applicability of the laws of thermodynamics. On the basis of Gibbs’ insights, the biochemical equilibrium of a milieu inteT rieur—of the circulation of blood, for example— can now be given a description in terms of functional equations (Russett 1966). This ‘homeostatic process,’ as it has been called by Henderson’s colleague Walter B. Cannon, provides the systematic starting point for functionalist thinking in sociology. The conceptual 5848

scheme of the social system involves the variation of heterogeneous, interdependent components that can be accounted for in a model of equilibrium—in the ideal case, in the form of a system of functional equations. The facts, that the variables of a social system are not easily quantifiable, and that the system cannot be experimentally isolated, do not detract from the value and applicability of this conceptual scheme.

1.2 The Problem of Teleology Equilibrating processes are not random processes. They are not the result of deterministic causal mechanisms, and they do not issue from a deterministic process of natural selection, from a ‘survival of the fittest.’ The internal integration of an organism and its adaptation to external conditions are based on reciprocal relations with the environment: as the organism is adapted to the environment, the environment is adapted to the organism; there is something like the ‘fitness of environment’ which is based on the internalization of the environment’s properties within the organism—water and carbon dioxide, for example, play a very important role for the organism in both milieus: the external and the internal (Henderson 1913). At least ex post factum the world seems to be a world of interdependent functional systems and can be described as a process of ‘negentropy’; a process of organization. This is the basic assumption on which the teleological character of functionalism is grounded. But commitment to this assumption is not a necessary condition to make use of equilibrium models in sociological functionalism.

2. Structural Functionalism Structural functionalism marks the phase of dominance of functionalism in sociology, especially in the USA from the 1940s to the 1960s. Structural functionalism does not constitute a single and unified research program. There are simpler versions of functionalism than the refined functionalism already characterized above by its extradisciplinary grounding in equilibrium models. A paradigmatic version of the simpler forms of structural functionalism can be found in the work of British anthropologist A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1952). The anthropological study of institutions in the context of a social totality can be seen as a blueprint for the procedure of functionalist research: the careful description of structural patterns, i.e., of non-random interrelations between components of a society or a social system that is at the core of this procedure.The functioning of these structural patterns secures the adaptation and\or integration, i.e., the persistence of the social unit in question. The structural

Functionalism in Sociology patterns are explained in terms of their consequences. Such a structural pattern would be, for example, the repressive law in archaic societies which Durkheim saw as indicative of a mechanical solidarity. Repressive law contributes to the integration of society. Retributive acts revive the feelings on which mechanical solidarity is based. All sociological research tends to exhibit the formal characteristics of functionalism in so far as it is pursued carefully (Davis 1959). 2.1 Simple Functional Explanation A simple functional explanation follows the following sequence: (a) A system S is adapted to its environment\is integrated, if the corresponding functional prerequisite P is fulfilled; (b) If the functional prerequisite P is fulfilled, pattern A or its functional equivalents B, C … exist; (c) Patterns B, C … do not exist in the system; (d) System S is adapted to its environment\is integrated, because pattern A exists in the system. This type of explanation does not imply an equilibrium model or a system of variables in the sense of Gibbs\Henderson. Two questions have to be asked here. First, how can one explain historically that pattern A contributes to the fulfillment of the functional prerequisite? The functional explanation has to be linked to a theory adequate to ground the claim that pattern A would not exist at all if it did not make a difference in the fulfillment of the functional prerequisite P or in the adaptation\integration of system S, respectively (Runciman 1990). Second, what is the origin of functional prerequisites? Either all consequences of action are functional prerequisites, or a limited set of functional prerequisites has to be justified theoretically and\or empirically. In the latter case a more refined version of functional explanation is called for, which will be taken up in the next step. In the first case an encompassing functional unity of society cannot be presupposed. Here, functionalism advances on an inductive basis. Such a middle-range approach to functionalism is presented by Robert K. Merton, who distinguishes between manifest functions on the basis of intended and recognized consequences of action on the one hand, and latent functions on the basis of non-intended and non-recognized consequences of action on the other (Merton 1963). Since Merton, functionalism has become associated with a concept of (mono-)functional systems that are the product of an interweaving of non-intended consequences of action and have gained substantial autonomy as against the intentions of actors. The discrepancy between actors’ intentions when acting in economic systems and the actual outcome of market processes as an aggregated result of these intentional actions may serve here as an illustration. As Merton demonstrates, the definition of functions on the basis

of consequences of action does not imply any preference towards an existing social order. It is impossible to make the disruption of social order the center of a functional perspective. Merton’s repudiation of the commonplace critique of conservatism proves him to be one of the liberal representatives of functionalism. 2.2 Refined Functional Explanation The greatest danger for functional explanation lies in the arbitrary selection of consequences of action as defining a function—this holds true for both simple and refined functional explanations. A limited set of functional prerequisites could be gained inductively from the empirical comparison of singular societies. The alternative is to justify a limited set of functional prerequisites on theoretical grounds. It has to be clarified, in which sense functions such as adaptation or integration make sense, not only for the organisms of biology and physiology, but for social systems as well. In particular, the question has to be answered, how an essential change of the system can be distinguished from mere surface variations in its operations. What is missing is a clear analogon in sociological functionalism for the concept of the ‘death of an organism’ (Do$ bert 1973). In his version of structural functionalism Talcott Parsons has provided a theoretical, normativistic account of functional prerequisites: a cultural system of values that is shared by all members of a society constitutes the central criterion for the adaptation and integration of society. The processes of society are functional in so far as they help to realize this common system of values. Parsons cannot introduce this system of values independently from an analysis of contemporary society that makes his theoretical grounding of functional problems a mere affirmation of consequences. At the same time he has to admit, that he is not able to conceive the equilibrating process of society in terms of a system of functional variables, in terms of a Gibbs\Henderson system. In particular, it does not seem possible to explain the change of action systems in terms of a functionalist analysis of equilibrating processes, especially processes of a moving or even a dynamic equilibrium. That leaves Parsons with static, normative structural categories and little difference compared with the ‘no frills’ strategy of simple functional explanation. The concept of function serves for him as a means for the dynamic interpretation of static categories that can eventually explain no more than a static equilibrium—the boundary maintenance of society and social systems, as they already exist. Parsons sees the concept of function as a logical, but not really satisfactory, equivalent for a system of simultaneous functional equations; structural functionalism therefore is only the ‘second best type of theory,’ biased for a normatively defined static equilibrium (Parsons 5849

Functionalism in Sociology 1954, 1959). Since an existing system of values is used here as the grounding interpretation for a limited set of functional prerequisites, the charge of conservatism that has been brought against Parsons is difficult to repudiate. However, it should be clear that the reasons for these shortcomings of Parsons’ theory are not political or ideological in character, but due to theoretical deficiencies. Finally, Parsons’ normative version of structural functionalism has to be put into the historical context: it is a reaffirmation of the cultural identity of American society during the dramatic developments on the eve of World War II, when the identity of American society indeed seemed to be at risk (Parsons 1973). The guiding ideal of a Gibbs\Henderson system certainly is an admonition for Parsons to avoid simple analogies and to search thoroughly for a system of interdependent functional equations. This clearly distinguishes Parsons’ effort from simple forms of functional explanation, but it is not the only difference. Formally the essential difference is marked by Parsons’ use of an equilibrium model (Nagel 1957, 1961). A state of equilibrium E is dependent on the variable contributions of several functions—a case of hierarchical or vertical organization of equilibrium: E is a system’s overriding concern. The range of variation of these functional contributions is large enough to endanger the stability of E. If the stability of E is endangered, certain mechanisms intervene to start a process of re-equilibration. A state of equilibrium E can be brought about by several different combinations of the values of the functional variables, but there are also combinations that characterize a disequilibrium: the loss of stability. In contrast to the hierarchical, vertical organization stands the horizontal organization of equilibrium: in a horizontally organized equilibrium functional variables are on a par with each other and constitute a mutual equilibrium. Of crucial importance for equilibrium models and for the development of functionalist thinking are the mechanisms that regulate the processes of (re)equilibration. There are three different mechanisms: (a) Compensatory mechanisms. The interdependence of the functional variables is based on direct relations between them: a decreasing contribution of the functional variable A directly causes the compensating, increased contribution of the functional variable B. The limits of compensation are given in the functional variables’ range of variation. Increasing the pressure in the thermos bottle illustrates a process of re-equilibration on the basis of compensatory relations between pressure, concentration, and temperature. (b) Mechanisms of a central control of equilibrium. The cybernetic self-regulation of machines can provide an example for this kind of re-equilibrating mechanism. The thermostat of a refrigerator is an instance of a central re-equilibrating control. (c) Mechanisms of reflexie control. In this case the 5850

system must be able to observe its own operations and to decide on re-equilibration on the basis of a ‘conscious’ or self-referential act of taking these observed operations into account.

3. Systemic Functionalism Parsons’ systemic functionalism exemplifies an equilibrium model characterized by a central control. Systemic functionalism replaces the deficient structural functionalism and develops an equivalent to the Gibbs\Henderson system. This theory claims to be able to explain the change of action systems in terms of a model of a moving or even a dynamic equilibrium. Parsons makes temporal process a constituent of his functional variables. The standard reproach directed against this type of functionalism concerns its deductive character. It may be deductive, but the theory is nevertheless empirically grounded in the empirical studies of small groups and interaction processes by Robert F. Bales, who collaborated with Parsons in developing the so-called ‘four-function scheme’ (adaptation, goal attainment, integration, latent pattern maintenance: AGIL). These four basic functions of social systems are derived from the analyses of processes of problem solution in small groups (Bales 1950, Parsons et al. 1981). Parsons conceives of society as a functionally differentiated unity consisting of four subsystems: economy, polity, societal community and the cultural, fiduciary subsystem. Parsons reconstructs the interdependence of these functional subsystems in terms of communication or interchange. Each subsystem has a specialized language of communication at its disposal—generalized media of communication or interchange: money, power, influence and moral appeals (see Fig. 1). In this scheme of

Figure 1 Parsons’ four-function scheme, the functional subsystems of society, and the societal media of interchange

Functionalism in Sociology interchange relations between the subsystems in terms of these media, Parsons has constructed his final equivalent to a system of functional equations in the sense of Gibbs and Henderson. Moving and even dynamic equilibrium now can be explained in terms of this communicative interchange. An empirical application of this scheme can be found in the study of Parsons and Gerald Platt on the system of higher education in the USA (Parsons and Platt 1973). All functional processes are regulated in the final instance by a central control mechanism: the top system of a cybernetic hierarchy which Parsons has integrated into his four-function scheme since the 1960s. This top system is culture or—on the level of societal subsystems—the fiduciary subsystem. This is a theoretical assumption that perpetuates the ‘cultural determinism’ of Parsonian theory.

4. Functional Structuralism The theory of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann offers an outstanding example for the ‘reflexive control’ of the equilibrium process. Although Luhmann’s theory has been referred to as a ‘second encoding’ of Parsons’ functionalism, it is really an inversion of Parsons’ structural functionalism. Therefore it may be called functional structuralism: Luhmann is not—as is Parsons—primarily interested in the function of given structures. His inverted theoretical perspective is characterized by the search for equivalent solutions of problems, i.e., for equivalent structures that fulfill given functional prerequisites. The basic assumption of his theory is that for almost all problems there are also other solutions than the ones already selected; every solution is a contingent one. This perspective brings ever-new potentialities and the continuing change of systems into view. The basic functional problem is not the boundary maintenance of systems but the functioning of systems in the face of contingency. There is no culturally defined structure, no program, no code that has to be maintained, executed, or realized to preserve the identity of the system. Luhmann shifts Parsons’ problem of the boundary maintenance of systems radically into the dimension of time, shaking off all the normative connotations of Parsonian theory. This leaves only the continuity of the system over time as a problem—and as a radically purged understanding of persistence in an overly complex world of other possibilities, of other equivalent solutions (Luhmann 1970). From the 1980s on, Luhmann began to rethink the distinction between system and environment, drawing on the works of Argentinian biologists F. J. Varela and Humberto Maturana and on the so-called ‘second cybernetics’ developed by researchers such as Heinrich von Foerster and Ernst von Glasersfeld. At the core of this process of rethinking stands the concept of the autopoiesis (self-creation) of systems. Even before this rearrangement of theoretical concepts, Luhmann de-

veloped the notion of a self-referential system. Selfreferentiality took the strategically important place which the top system of the cybernetic hierarchy, culture, held in Parsons’ theory. This was a first step to introduce a reflexive control of equilibrium process. Even more significant is the concept of autopoietic systems. Autopoietic systems repeat the difference of system and environment internally, within the system. Autopoietic systems use this difference to observe (and to regulate, to condition) their own operations. The distinction between system and environment is transformed, the difference of identity (what belongs rightfully to the system makes up its identity), and difference (what does not belong to the system, what is foreign to it) forms the basis for the system’s operations. Autopoietic systems produce the typical elements they consist of on their own by observing themselves in the process of production, by using the difference of identity and difference—in a metaphorical sense one could call this the self-consciousness of the system. Autopoietic systems are closed, and operate only under the condition of self-contact, whereas Parsons postulated open systems engaged in processes of mutual interchange. The only way for autopoietic systems to influence each other is in a manner that Luhmann calls the ‘structural coupling’ of systems: mutual irritations and resonance effects which the operations of one system have in the other. In a sense, autopoietic systems discover their own functionality and internalize the process of the search for equivalent solutions (Luhmann 1984). Luhmann’s theory can eschew Anthony Giddens’ criticism that equilibrium process, the self-regulation of systems, eludes an analysis in terms of reflexiity (Giddens 1977). For Luhmann, social systems consist of communications as elements. The differentiation of society into (mono-)functionally specialized subsystems—the economic system, the political system, science, art, religion, love, etc.—is based on the development of generalized media of communication. These specialized types of communications form the elements which autopoietic systems have to reproduce endlessly. The economy, for example, is made up of money communications: payments. It is observing itself in terms of the difference payment\non-payment (or liquid\broke). The maintenance of liquidity is the single most important functional prerequisite which has to be fulfilled to secure the continuity of the economic system’s operations (Luhmann 1988).

5. Neofunctionalism Neofunctionalism is a research program that has been founded on the basis of a thorough critique of Parsonian theory, in particular by Jeffrey C. Alexander (Alexander 1985, 1998). Although the name suggests a 5851

Functionalism in Sociology close relationship with other forms of functionalism, the central criterion for belonging to the class of functionalist approaches is clearly not satisfied: neofunctionalism does not provide simple or refined functional explanations in terms of the teleological interpretation of consequences of action or in terms of equilibrium models. The only reason that the label ‘neofunctionalism’ is justified at all can be seen in its renewal of Davis’ assertion, that all careful sociological analysis is (neo)functional analysis. As a movement of theory and empirical research, neofunctionalism is a reorientation of sociological analysis from systems and equilibrium to concrete actors and interpretative processes. See also: Control: Social; Differentiation: Social; Integration: Social; Labor, Division of; Luhmann, Niklas (1927–98); Parsons, Talcott (1902–79); System: Social; Values, Sociology of

Bibliography Alexander J C (ed.) 1985 Neofunctionalism. Sage Publications. Beverly Hills, CA Alexander J C 1998 Neofunctionalism and after. Blackwell, Oxford, UK Bales R F 1950 Interaction Process Analysis: A Method for the Study of Small Groups Addison-Wesley, Cambridge, MA Cassirer E 1980 Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen uW ber die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, Germany Davis K 1959 The myth of functional analysis as a special method in sociology and anthropology. American Sociological Reiew 24: 757–72 Do$ bert R 1973 Systemtheorie und die Entwicklung religioW ser Deutungssysteme. Zur Logik des sozialwissenschaftlichen Funktionalismus. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, Main, Germany Gibbs J W 1948 The Collected Works of J Willard Gibbs. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT Giddens A 1977 Studies in Social and Political Theory. Hutchinson, London Henderson L J 1913 The Fitness of Enironment. Macmillan, New York Henderson L J 1935 Pareto’s General Sociology. A Physiologist’s Interpretation. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA Luhmann N 1970 Soziologische AufklaW rung 1. AufsaW tze zur Theorie der Gesellschaft. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen, Germany Luhmann N 1984 Soziale Systeme. Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, Germany Luhmann N 1988 Die Wirtschaft der Gesellschaft. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, Germany Merton R K 1963 Social Theory and Social Structure, rev. edn. The Free Press, Glencoe, IL Nagel E 1957 Logic Without Metaphysics, and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science. The Free Press, Glencoe, IL Nagel E 1961 The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. Harcourt, New York Parsons T 1954 Essays in Sociological Theory, rev. edn. The Free Press, New York Parsons T 1959 The Social System. The Free Press, Glencoe, IL

Parsons T 1993 Talcott Parsons on National Socialism. Aldine De Gruyter, New York Parsons T, Bales R F, Shils E A 1981 Working Papers in the Theory of Action. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT Parsons T, Platt G M 1973 The American University, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA Radcliffe-Brown A R 1952 Structure and Function in Primitie Society. Cohen & West, London Runciman W G 1990 A Treatise on Social Theory. Vol. I: The Methodology of Social Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Russett C E 1966 The Concept of Equilibrium in American Social Thought. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT Sztompka P 1974 System and Function. Toward a Theory of Society. Academic Press, New York Wenzel H 1991 Die Ordnung des Handelns. Talcott Parsons’ Theorie des allgemeinen Handlungssystems. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

H. Wenzel Copyright # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Guarantees ‘Fundamental rights’ are typically the protections of individual (and sometimes group) liberties in modern constitutions. International human rights law provides a baseline of minimum protections that all members of the international community ought to observe. Many constitutional orders supplement these minimum protections with additional guarantees.

1. Types of Fundamental Rights Fundamental rights developed in three stages. Initially governments committed themselves to protect a set of basic civil and political rights, and later began to treat social welfare rights as fundamental. In the later part of the twentieth century, rights to cultural and environmental protection came to be understood as fundamental as well. The idea that people have constitutional rights makes sense only in the context of accounting for why some exercises of power are arbitrary and unjustified. Postmedieval Western political theory abandoned accounts in which sovereign power was by definition unlimited, and replaced them with accounts of sovereign power—usually the power of governments, but sometimes the power of individuals over others— according to which there were limits on the justified exercise of power. Initially, the accounts defined a set of rights, which came to be described as ‘civil’ rights, that people had simply by virtue of the fact that they lived in an organized society (rather than in a state of nature). At the core of this set were the right to own property, the right to dispose of one’s property


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