A Historical and Intellectual Sketch of Talcott Parsons
Although Parsons' systems theory was widely influential in various studies, such as religion, modernization, industrialization, complex organizations, and sociological theory, it was also widely criticized (Alexander 1982). Some arguments against social systems theory are: it cannot deal adequately with the presence of conflict and change in social life; its assumptions about equilibrium and social order are based on a conservative ideology; its assumptions about value consensus in society are not empirically well grounded; it is difficult to reconcile notions about structural processes and functional requirements with the theory of action, which emphasizes the centrality of purposeful choice by individual actors. In short, modern systems theory appears to reproduce all essential weaknesses of nineteenth-century evolutionary theory (Alexander 1982).
Some other criticisms included the fact that Parsons was a grand theory of little empirical use; he gives too much importance to value and norms; he is unable to reconcile action theory with system theory, and in effect sees individual action as structurally determined (Zeuner 2001).
Parsons' work was at the center of debate in sociological theory until the mid 1970s, but even now, years after his death and more than two decades since its period of dominance, Parsonian functionalism is still the subject of controversy. Overall, Parsons was probably the most prominent theorist of his time, and it is unlikely that any one theoretical approach will so dominate sociological theory again (Turner 1998).
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