Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Manifest and Latent Functions

Manifest and Latent Functions
Sociologist Robert Merton points out that an activity may have some more than one function and one or more of its functions may be unintended or at least not obvious to those who practice it.

What is the manifest function?
The manifest function of a pattern of behavior is the effect or result that is apparent to the members of the society. We can ask people why they do a certain thing; they will give the reason the manifest function of that behavior – the agreed upon value of action, the ideal as opposed to the real.

What is the latent function?
The latent function of the behavior is the effect or result that is not apparent to the members of the society who engage in it. In American society, when a person dies we often follow a pattern of behavior called a funeral. This can include a religious service, a meeting of family and friends either before or after the service, and a service in which the body is buried.

If we were to ask American who engage in this practice what its functions were, we would probably get some of the following answer:
1. The funeral serves to dispose of the body of the deceased, an obvious necessity
2. The gathering of the friends and relatives at the funeral helps console the family of the deceased, supporting them and comforting them in their time of sorrow
3. The religious service, in which prayers are offered for the deceased, is designed to aid the soul or spirit in its journey to whatever awaits in the afterlife
4 In addition, part of the funeral service can be devoted to the achievements of the deceased, and thus can served as a memorial to that person, which also comfort to the family.

All this functions are fairly obvious because they are known to the participants.
Manifest and Latent Functions
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