Religion be when it helps in binding together members of a society. lt is called dysfunctional when it promotes superstitious beliefs and ‘meaningless’ practices, (ii) A political machine is dysfunctional when it increases graft and corruption. It remains functional when it is able to protect the rights of minorities and assure equality to all. (iii) The high birth rate in the less developed countries of the world is very dysfunctional for those societies because, it has created a serious problem of overpopulation.
Sometimes, an element, in the social order can be functional in one respect and dysfunctional in another. Any industry in any modern society, for example, has the manifest function of providing the goods on which the way of life of the people depends.
But it has also the latent function of polluting the environment and is therefore, dysfunctional in this sense. The full implications of any element in the social system therefore have to be carefully explored.
Not ‘Purposes’ but ‘Functions’:
As Merton has made it clear ‘function” of any element has to be distinguished from “purpose”. A purpose is something subjective that is, something in the mind of the participant or participants in a social system. But a function of dysfunction is an objective consequence of action.
When we attribute functions to sub-groups, roles, norms or any partial structure, we mean that its action has certain consequences for a social system irrespective of the motives of the actor or actors. Motives are important, no doubt, but they are not the same thing as functions or dysfunctions.
The Distinction is only relative:
It is to be noted that the distinction between “function” and “dysfunction” is only relative and I not absolute. Sometimes, they may be complementary to one another also. Because, we often find both function and dysfunction in any single phenomenon simultaneously.
It is difficult to draw a line of separation between the two. Whatever is functional to some may turn out to be dysfunctional for someone else. Hence the description of the two expressions often becomes subjective depending upon the social situations.
Further, the value or practice or norm, etc., which is functional at one time or place may become dysfunctional-interfering with the smooth operation of society-at another time or place. Example: large families were desired throughout most history. Death rates were high and large families helped to ensure some services.
Especially, in America, with a big continent to fill, and with never enough hands to do the work, large families were functionally useful. They provided workers, companionship, and old age security, and were good both for the individual and the society.
But today, in a crowded world with a low death rate, large families are no longer a blessing. In other words, large families have become dysfunctional and ‘threaten the welfare’ of the society.
Functions and Dysfunctions as Eunomia and Dysnomia:
The distinction between function and dysfunction can further be made clear by making use of the much fashionable organic analogy. In an organism we distinguish between health and ill-health or disease.
Ancient Greeks thought that the ideas of health and disease could be applied to society to distinguish conditions of ‘eunomia’ (which refers to good order or social health) from ‘dysnomia’ (which denotes disorder or social ill-health).
In brief, ‘eunomia’ refers to function and ‘dysnomia’ refers to dysfunctions. In the organic world, there is a special science called ‘pathology’ which studies ill-health or the phenomena of dysnomia or dysfunction.
In the 19th century, Durkheim borrowed this concept of Pathology from the organic sciences and used it in his sociological studies of ‘Suicide’ and “Division of Labour in Society”. He called it “social pathology”.
In these two studies “he attempted to find out objective criteria by which to judge whether a given society at a given time is normal or pathological, eunomic or dysnomic”. Durkheim preferred to use -the term “anomic conditions” in place of ‘-dysnomic conditions’.
With regard to the organic structures we can find strictly objective criteria by which we distinguish disease from health, pathological from normal. Disease may either threaten the organism with death or interfere with fits organic activities or functions.
As far as the human societies are concerned, we cannot say that societies die in the manner in which the organism dies. Hence, we cannot define dysnomia as some conditions which lead, if not controlled, to the death of a society.
Unlike an organism, a society can change its structural type, or it can become an integral part of a larger society. It is for this reason Brown says, “We cannot define dysnomia as a disturbance of the usual activities of a social type”.
As far as the comparison between “the health of an organism” and “the eunomia of a society” is concerned, we find a striking congruence. In both the instances, it means a condition of the harmonious working together of the parts. Due to its organic unity the organism tries to maintain its health.
Similarly, society too has a kind of unity which Brown calls ‘functional unity”, or “inner consistency of a social system”. Brown is confident that it may be possible to establish a purely objective – iron to determine the degree of functional unity of any particular society. But he has admitted the infant science of society has not been able to establish such a kind of criterion at present.