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Anthropology and Consensus perspective


Anthropologists have contributed to the development of the consensus perspective by their extensive use of functional analysis. It was Malinowski who used the term functionalism for his own particular brand of the consensus approach. He accepted the view that societies could be seen as social systems and that these systems of interrelated elements arose from the basic needs of all men. He assumption was that men had certain fundamental needs such as food, shelter, protection and sexual satisfaction. To meet these needs men produce and distribute food; they build dwellings, they group together; they develop heterosexual relations. But in fulfilling their basic needs in these ways, they produce secondary needs such as communication, cooperation, control of conflict and so on. The satisfaction of these secondary needs, by the development of language, norms, rules, enforcement agencies etc. in turn give rise to the need for coordinating, governing and integrating institutions.

On the basis of these assumptions, Malinowski produces a conceptual framework of society as an integrated, coordinated system generated by the very nature of man. Every feature of society is meeting some need and it is the same time fulfilling some function. In general, the functions it fulfills are the needs of man in his social environment. In meeting the different levels of needs, the social system is maintained. For him, all cultural features of a society are fulfilling some function or serving some needs. The task of the researcher is to discover those needs or those functions. When these are discovered, the existence of the cultural item, be it a particular form of social relationship between in laws in a specific tribe or some burial ritual has been explained.

Radcliffe-Brown’s contribution can be illustrated from his famous study of joking relationships. These relationships often found in primitive societies, permit –indeed, often require –one person to tease and make fun of another who in turn is not allowed to take offence. It is a relationship of permitted disrespect and to understand its function it is necessary to see it in the context of respectful social relations in the society as a whole. Joking relationships are found between relatives by marriage, especially between a man and his wife’s brothers and sisters. Radcliffe-Brown suggests that a marriage involves a readjustment of the social structure in that both partners have to modify their relations with their own families and are brought into a special relationship with each other’s family. The relationship involves attachment and separation, both social conjunction and social disjunction.Social disjunction implies divergence of interests and the possibility of conflict while conjunction requires stability and the avoidance of strife. The joking relationship is seen as a form of social  arrangement which combines the two in a stable ordered form. Any serious hostility is prevented is prevented by the playful teasing; the regular repetition  of this muted antagonism serves as a constant expression or remainder of the social disjunction which is one of the essential components of the relation. At the same time the social conjunction is maintained by the friendliness; persons take no offence at the insulting or disrespectful behavior. For Radcliffe-Brown, all cultural items were seen as interrelated and interdependent within a total unified system of social interaction. He saw a society as a system of interrelated elements of social structure that he defined as a network of normative relationships. These normative relationships existed within a common system of values. Radcliffe –Brown assumed that it was a necessary condition for the existence of a society that the individual members recognize some common values.