Widely spread in Western countries, and so-called , in fact, one of the options for a systematic approach to the study of society, which began with the works of O. Kong, G. Spencer and E. Durkheim.
The main provisions of the methodology of modern structural and functional analysis are presented in the works of American sociologists T. Parsons and R. Merton, based on the ideas of the above-mentioned thinkers, as well as the ideas of M. Weber and P. Sorokin, whom T. Parsons called his teacher. Contemporary followers of T. Parsons and R. Merton, analyzing social phenomena, also use a number of propositions from the general theory of systems L. Von Bertalanffy, A. Rapoport, and W. R. Ashby.
In his main work, "The Structure of Social Action" (1937) T. Parsons comprehensively substantiated the proposition that the fundamental factor in the generation and further functioning of any social phenomenon and process are the actions of people. Therefore, in order to understand the content and social significance of a social phenomenon and process, it is necessary to study the motivational motives of people's activities, its content and social orientation.Parsons proceeded from the premise that people's actions, on the one hand, are prompted by their needs and interests, and on the other hand are regulated by certain social norms and values to which they are guided; people are united on the basis of common interests and value orientations, and also trust to each other. Without this, their joint actions and the social processes that develop from them are impossible. In this regard, the main tasks of researching these processes are the analysis of the needs and interests of subjects of social activity (individuals, social groups, etc.), as well as the system of values (political, moral, religious, etc.) with which they are guided in their thinking, activity and behavior.
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According to T. Parsons, people's activities always occur in certain "structural frameworks" (small and large) and to some extent socially organized. The result is the functioning of certain social institutions and organizations. He described the basic functional preconditions of the existence of any social system (family, industrial and political organization, up to the society as a whole) as follows: 1) the ability of each social system to adapt (adapt) to the conditions of the external environment ; 2) the achievement of the objectives of the functioning of this system; 3) integrative function of the system: for the realization of the first two functional prerequisites for the existence of the system, the last "should have an internal unity and ordering"; 4) the reproduction and preservation of the social system through the assimilation of all its elements "norms of the system."
These functions of existence and development of the social system are realized through the activities of the relevant social institutions (economic, political, etc.). In this process of education, in which people learn modern knowledge, values and social norms, was characterized by Parsons as the "dynamic core of the social system." He concluded that socially developed individuals play a decisive role in preserving, maintaining order and reproducing any social system.
According to T. Parsons, each social institution can be represented as a system of positions (statuses) of actors acting in it and the social roles they perform.
Teacher and student in the education system, soldier and officer in the army, producer and consumer in the system of economic relations are all examples of social roles in various social institutions. Parsons argued that "institutions and roles remain, while individuals come and go".
T. Parsons believed that the society will be in a state of equilibrium and stability, if people will absorb and practically realize the values that consolidate it and the norms of the hostel. When this does not happen, there are cases of deviating behavior people, including criminal, which threatens the order and the normal existence of this society.
In his later works ("Societies: the evolutionary and comparative perspective" (1966) and "The system of modern societies" (1971)), Parsons, with the help of the method he developed, tried to justify the doctrine of the development of society as a whole. He argued that the deepest sphere of society's existence is its spiritual culture, while recognizing the important role in the functioning of society of its economic and political subsystems.
P. Merton questioned the scientific productivity of theories that claim to analyze society as a whole. The study of the more limited areas of public life, according to Merton, is much closer to reality, in which case its analysis is more concrete and profound. This is the focus of the "average level theory" developed by him. R. Merton made a significant contribution to the development of the theory of the functioning of social phenomena, in the analysis of their functions and dysfunctions, i.e. deviations, harmful for the existence of these phenomena.
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As many modern Western researchers have noted, structural and functional analysis after some decline in interest in it in the 1970s and 1980s. today again widely used in the study of phenomena of social life.
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