Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the functionalist approach to society
Functionalism is a consensus perspective that sees society as based on shared values into which members are socialised. It sees society as like an organism, each part performing functions to maintain the system as a whole. For example, religion, the education system and the family perform socialisation functions. The functionalist theory has many strengths.
One of the strengths of Functionalism is that it asserts that there are purposes for social conditions or facts. For example, under a functionalist point of view the newspaper deliverer and the sewer worker all contribute to the function of the entire unit--without serving these purposes, the social structure would not function properly.
One of the weaknesses of this perspective, however, is that some could arguably assert that poverty serves a function in such a society. You can make this argument, but as Durkheim saw "function", he was much more optimistic and may have argued that poverty was more a product of "anomie" than actually serving a function.
Another, more general criticism of functionalism is the argument that it is somewhat "naive" in that it assumes that there is consensus: that everyone in the structure holds the same norms and values; that we all essentially believe in and work for the same thing. Many theorists take issue with this component and argue that Western society is more accurately characterized as groups of people in a society competing for resources, wealth, and power. More importantly, these groups do not all believe the same thing (in fact, many are counter-culture) and are thus in conflict with each other. Many Conflict theorists would take the pessimistic view expressed earlier that poverty serves a function in a society.