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Talcott Parsons: Equilibrium and social integration

The centrality of the normative nature of social structure in Parson’s conceptual framework is reflected in his use of the concept of equilibrium. For him, a society in a state of equilibrium is one in which there is no conflict, one in which everyone knows what is expected of him in any role and one in which these expectations are constantly being met. This is a condition of perfect equilibrium and in practice is never realized but it is assumed to be a condition society is always striving to attain. 

The key processes for attaining this theoretical state of equilibrium are socialization and social control. Role players learn are socialized into, the expectations attached to the role and this process is backed up by the positive sanctioning and negative sanctioning of role performances which do or do not meet these expectations. In the perfectly integrated system the deeper layers of motivation become harnessed to the fulfillment of role expectations. Thus there is a necessary relationship between the personality of an individual and the social structure of his society when it is in a state of equilibrium.

Socialization is an extremely important process for those who use this consensus perspective to analyze the nature and processes of social behavior.It is the process through which individuals learn what is expected of them in various situations ,it is the process through which members of a society become committed to the societal value system. In this process of social learning the role of parents is seen as crucial. 

For Parsons ,the mother and father are the important moulders of the child’s personality and in his description of the mechanisms of the learning process  he relies heavily on Freudian psychology. He uses the concept of identification to explain the taking in or internalizing, of the values of a mother as a representative of society by a young child. The emotional attachment that the child has for the mother is seen as an important factor in the process of learning the societal values. Parsons emphasizes the acquisition of values and the plasticity and sensitivity of the new born member of society whose dependency involves it in deep emotional attachments. In general Parsons theoretical approach emphasizes the influence of prior or antecedent factors in the process of socialization. The low level of parental commitment to some societal values may be for their children, an antecedent factor which adversely affects the quality of socialization thereby impairment the chances of the children meeting their teachers expectations. In considering the concept of equilibrium, Parsons demonstrates his acceptance of the idea that the parts of a society’s social structure are interdependent. He noticed the changes in family structure particularly the move from extended to nuclear family units. This change in family structure is related to changes in the functions of the family. He claims that as society has changed, so the functions required of the family have necessary changed thereby altering the structure of the family.