In social sciences, the term social function is seen as a relationship between an organism and its parts of the organs. The notion also carries with it a reference to some activity and the product or the result of the activity i.e. theological implication. The real impetus to the use of the term in sociology came in 19thcentury. Sociologists like Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer regarded group of societies or individual societies as being very similar to biological organisms. According to Emile Durkheim any sociological explanation should firstly consist of the discovery of phenomenon’s cause and secondly of its function. It is used in preference to end or purpose.
In 1920 Malinowski in his work, Among the Trobriand Islanders first elaborated about the social function as a concept. He emphasized the importance of analyzing primitive societies as socio-cultural wholes accounting for institutions in terms of their relations to other institutions in the same society and their significance in satisfying and meeting the basic needs, the biological needs of the individuals.
Radcliffe-Brown re established the organismic analogy of earlier functional trends. Emile Durkheim had emphasized the fulfillment of the needs of an organism in his definition of the term social function. Radcliffe- Brown replaced this need by the necessary conditions of the existence though he did not explain as to what these conditions are. There is no equivalence of the vital parts of an organism in human societies. In transferring the organismic analogy to the social field, Radcliffe Brown concedes that societies do not die in the sense animals die. Radcliffe Brown extends it further to imply that the maintenance of the life of organism amounts to the maintenance of its structure. A social structure can undergo change even when there is no revolution.
In sociology (1920-30) saw an increasing interest in abstract conception of social system. R.K Merton differentiated between manifest function and latent function. Manifest functions are objective consequences for the system that are intended and recognized by the relevant participants. Latent functions are neither intended nor recognized. At times a set of activities may be of no particular consequence for the state of the system, they were not recognized as social or cultural fossils. Sociologists also talked about dysfunctions as the activities contributed to the survival of the social system and which amounted to their disturbance.