I don't know if I should ask this here because the question is more like a sociology one. Anyway, I will give it a try, since most of the sociologists are also philosophers, so maybe I'll be lucky finding an answer.

I am preparing for an exam, and I understand really well Lévi-Strauss's structuralism and I also understand well functionalism(Malinowski).

My problem is that later on in the book I have a question that asks me to explain what Structural-Functionalism is.

I don't know how to answer that:

-Is that the same as just functionalism or is it a new point of view?

-Could you define or explain it a little bit for me please?

Please don't just give me a link to Wikipedia, because I've already been there and was not helpful to me.

  • Structural functionalism is also known as functionalism. This theory's key figures are Radcliffe-Brown and Bronislaw Malinowski.
    – user2529
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 10:12

5 Answers 5


If you find the Wikipedia article on Structural Functionalism too dense, I think the easiest links for you are going to be the Wikipedia articles on Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski; both of these explain the relationships between (Malinowski's) functionalism, (Lévi-Strauss's) structuralism, and (Radcliffe Brown's) structural functionalism quite concisely.

For example:

In contrast to Radcliffe-Brown's structural functionalism, Malinowski argued that culture functioned to meet the needs of individuals rather than society as a whole. He reasoned that when the needs of individuals, who comprise society, are met, then the needs of society are met.


Malinowski suggested that individuals have physiological needs (reproduction, food, shelter) and that social institutions exist to meet these needs. There are also culturally derived needs and four basic "instrumental needs" (economics, social control, education, and political organization), that require institutional devices. Each institution has personnel, a charter, a set of norms or rules, activities, material apparatus (technology), and a function. Malinowski argued that uniform psychological responses are correlates of physiological needs. He argued that satisfaction of these needs transformed the cultural instrumental activity into an acquired drive through psychological reinforcement (Goldschmidt 1996:510; Voget 1996:573).

Radcliffe-Brown focused on social structure rather than biological needs. He suggested that a society is a system of relationships maintaining itself through cybernetic feedback, while institutions are orderly sets of relationships whose function is to maintain the society as a system. Radcliffe-Brown, inspired by Augustus Comte, stated that the social constituted a separate "level" of reality distinct from those of biological forms and inorganic matter. Radcliffe-Brown argued that explanations of social phenomena had to be constructed within the social level. Thus, individuals were replaceable, transient occupants of social roles. Unlike Malinowski's emphasis on individuals, Radcliffe-Brown considered individuals irrelevant (Goldschmidt 1996:510).


Malinowski argued that every institution has FUNCTION to fulfil individual physical and psychological needs like school for Education . In his View NEEDS AND CULTURE Act. As a functional Instrument. . But. Radcliffe- Brown Critic That Biological needs is not same they are changing so In his views Functionalism Merely Depend on Social structure rather than Needs . Both. Worked on how society changes and. Both made functionalism as basis to study. Society but. Has two opinion on is. Needs. And other is social structure.

  • Hi, welcome to philosophy.SE. Do you have a reference to pertinent works by these authors? Best!
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 2:59

Malinowski concentrated much on the biological needs or the primary needs of the individual and how the sociocultral or the social institutions exist to meet those needs.Simply means culture exists to meet biological needs.Also humans can never live without culture since it is there to satisfy biologiacal needs.Much on the individual

Brown emphasis on the society as a whole.society as an organism which consists of various parts and these parts are interrelated and interdepedent to work together as a whole for the development or the survival of the society.Much on the society


Hi I am a student in anthropology and would try to answer the above question.... At the very first point functionalism and structural functionalism are quite different. Bronislaw Malinowski was a proponent of functionalism and Radcliffe-Brown was a pioneer of the structural school of thoughts. Both explained society in different ways.... Now i will explain structuralism in a comparative way with functionalism According to Malinowski social phenomena are outcome of some psycho-biological needs of human but in structural-functionalism Radcliffe pointed out that function of any practice is what it does to maintain the system of which it is part. Note- here pshyco-biological needs refer to sex, food, shelter which is also being proposed by Maliniwski. Now, this cannot explain all the functions done by an individual. A simple example is, if we arrive late for class or a meeting it cannot be explained due to any pshyco-biological need, we were late to maintain the social system.

I hope my answer was helpful and would appreciate criticism....

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