Can you compare and contrast Mertons emphasis on latent functions and dysfunctions with the way symbolic interaction theory and rational choice theory focus on peoples  conscious interpretations...

Can you compare and contrast Mertons emphasis on latent functions and dysfunctions with the way symbolic interaction theory and rational choice theory focus on peoples  conscious interpretations and /or intentions. For some social group in which you are involved, would you consider your network ties or socioeconomic bonds to be the result of conscious intention or a latent function of being in the same environment and coping with the same problems?

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Karyth Cara | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Robert K. Merton's theory of manifest and latent functions and dysfunctions examines and explains the consequences or disruptions (intended or unintended results) of actions (deliberate conscious or unconscious actions) and the effects of actions upon society (positive or negative). The objective of function theory is to understand how functions, or consequences and disruptions, contribute to or detract from a social system’s stasis, also called its unchanging ongoingness. Manifest functions and dysfunctions are consequences while latent functions and dysfunctions are disruptions: consequences occur within social systems while dysfunctions interfere with a social system's order and stability. Functions/dysfunctions that are manifest are those that are intended, conscious and deliberate while functions/dysfunctions that are latent are those that are unintended, unanticipated and unconscious. Manifest functions are explicitly stated as expected consequences of action while manifest dysfunctions are expected disruptions resulting from an intended action. In contrast, latent functions are not explicitly stated nor expected consequences of an action while latent dysfunctions are unexpected and unanticipated disruptions to social order.

Symbolic Interaction Theory

Symbolic interaction theory explains and describes how society is formed by defining the role of the individual within the creative and fluctuating process of society formation. Symbolic interaction theory opposes functionalism in that social interactionism focuses on how individual people create symbolic interactions based on symbolic objects and create social lives that are in flux within a stable framework. This contrasts with functionalism in that functionalism focuses on social processes and how these social processes--like manifest functions resulting from social actions--create social systems. In functionalism, the social system overshadows the autonomous individual while in symbolic interactionism, the individual adjusts to others' actions and to their own self-actions as they think about others' actions and about their own self-actions, thereby creating a system that is in flux though the external framework is stable over long periods of time. The framework is not ultimately inflexible as can be seen by the changes manifest in American society between the 1950s and 1970s and again between the more protracted and tumultuous period of the 1970s through the 2010s. Symbolic objects are objective objects that exist in an empirical, external world "out there" and that have different, even variable, meanings for different people. Symbolic objects come in three categories for the symbolic interactionist: physical--e.g., pen and apple; social--e.g., student, mother, friend; abstract--e.g., concepts, virtues, moral, ideas. Symbolic interactionism focuses on face-to-face interactions that create changeable, continually readjusting social processes of social life in which individuals are able to think about and interpret objects and the actions of other individual actors as well as thinking about and interpreting their own actions. Contrastingly,  functionalism focuses on social processes that generate socialization that creates stability in a social system in which functions and dysfunctions with their consequences and disruptions generate the momentum that forms the social system.

Rational Choice Theory

Rational choice theory explains social relationships as a dynamic that is generated from the relationship between an individual's preferences and constraints, with this relationship being a means to an end. The "rational choice" of rational choice theory is narrowly and strictly defined to mean that all individuals make choices as if balancing costs against benefits to arrive at action that maximizes personal advantage. This definition establishes rationality as a pattern of choice rather than as individual choices: rational choice is made on the basis of available information in light of individual goals with the aim of attaining prioritized wants and needs. Social interactions stem from weighing alternate outcomes of varying choices and choosing the alternatives that will be right in light of goals and objectives. Rational theorists have moved in present day closer to micro-economic theory and have emphasized mathematics more heavily. Nonetheless, the originating theory holds that society is a function of rational choices, where people chose according to their own best interest as determined by their preferences and based on available information whereby costs and benefits and alternate options of choice might be known, evaluated and acted upon. In contrast to symbolic interaction theory and function theory, rational choice theory is one in which society is the conglomerate of individual utilitarian choice based on self-need.

"For some social group..."

To answer your "For some social group" question, consider your schooling as a socioeconomic bond relevant to the question. "Conscious intention" defines manifest function: intended, explicitly stated, deliberate action or behavior that has a consequence of positive benefit to society. "Latent function" is defined as unintended, unanticipated, unexpected result that is a negative disruption to a stable society. In relation to your socioeconomic bond of schooling, this was a manifest function, a conscious intention that was explicitly stated with anticipated, expected consequences that provide a positive benefit to your, your social network and family, and to society at large. 

Symbolic Interaction, Grinnell College

Symbolic Objects, Wikipedia

John Scott. "Rational Choice Theory." Iowa State University.

Rational Choice Theory. Wikipedia.

Rational Choice Theory, Definition. Investopedia.

Manifest and Latent Functions and Dysfunctions. Wikipedia.

Frank W. Elwell. "Merton on Structural Functionalism." Rogers State University.

"Structural Functionalism, Neofunctionalism, and Conflict Theory." Social Theory, Chapter 7 Chapter Summary. McGraw-Hill.

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