Functionalism and Weberianism

Functionalism and Weberianism

Functionalism and Weberianism
Institutional Affiliation
Functionalism and Weberianism

Health care usually entails a series of interrelated medical services that seeks to prevent, diagnose and cure health related problems (Amzat & Razum, 2014). A synthesis of these three functions together is what forms the backbone of the nursing field. Just like other aspects of human life, such as the economy, sociology, among others, healing relies on sociological theories to ensure that nurses and other health practitioners understand their roles well. Nurses who understand the general principles of the sociological theories can utilize their knowledge more efficiently while facing varying demanding situations in their line of duties (Frayan, 2012). Moreover, sociological theories provide a more comprehensive understanding to the health practitioners on how to play their role better in the society.
Despite the uncountable sociological theories, the majority of them tend to fall either under conflict theory (Marxian and Weberianism), structural functionalism or symbolic interactionalism. While these theories were derived as past as the 1800s, they have been of great importance in the nurse arena. However, different sociological theories tend to differ and agree with various premises. These theories have also been criticized by professionals based on various grounds. For instance, structural functionalism has been criticized for underplaying power differences among different groups in the society (Faia, 2006). This paper focuses on comparing and contrasting functionalism and Weberianism from perspectives of health and illness. The paper also discusses how the two theories contribute to enhancing health practitioners’ knowledge.

Comparing functionalism and Weberianism

Functionalism theory analysis in the perspectives of healthcare was mainly done by Talcott Parsons. According to this theorist, health status of members in a particular society is an essential factor that determines orderliness and stability in that society. On the other, illness is a kind of deviance that prevents people from performing their duties in the society (Willis, et al., 2007). In this regard, functionalism viewpoints align with Weberianism premises concerning health care and illness. According to Weberianism, achieving and maintaining exemplary health status is a major factor that influences growth and instability of every society. Marx Weber acknowledges due to the important role played by health, every social class in the society strives to maintain a healthy life and overcome illness (Tyrrell, Levack, Ritchie, & Keeling, 2012).
Another notable similarity in both Weberianism and functionalism is that apart from both being sociological theories, they recognize that sicknesses disrupt the normal functioning of a given society. For instance, according to functionalism theory, a sick person is expected to supply medical documents to their workstations from their doctors to prove they are ill. In this context, patients are supposed to remain conscious on their roles in the society. As a result, every sick person is expected to take an initiative of seeking medical attention to get well or they will be perceived as if they are faking their illness. From the Weberianism perspectives, health care is analyzed based on quality and accessibility (Frayan, 2012). For instance, according to Weberianism, accessibility to a better health care in a society determines the level of social class each belongs to in society.
Finally, both theories support the notion that a better relationship between healthcare services provider and patients is vital in the effort to overcome illness in the society. In other words, the well-being of company members highly depends on how well they cooperate with health practitioners in their locality. For instance, in the Australian healthcare where federal government expenditure (67%) remains below OECD average (72%), patients must be ready to cater for services not covered such as ambulance costs, dentistry among others or apply for a small income earner card which enables a patient to access services at a subsidized rate (Berman, Snyder, Kozier, Jones, & Dwyer, 2014). In the light of functionalism, health practitioners’ role is to provide instructions while the sick must adhere to them. This assertion aligns with the viewpoints of Marx Weber under Weberianism. This theorist notes that physicians and other health practitioners have an obligation to define social problems and relate them to medical conditions being experienced in a particular society.
Establishing the difference(s) between functionalism and Weberianism
Both functionalism and Weberianism as sociological theories have notable differences based on their provision and assumptions in the perspectives of health and illness. According to functionalism theory, society is perceived as objective, cohesive and stable. Thus in regards to health and illness, Talcott Parsons believes the two aspects are universal and affects the whole society uniformly. This assertion differs with Max Weber Weberianism theory where social inequality highly determines the quality and accessibility of healthcare in society. In this regard, Max Weber argument on Weberianism theory is that people who belong to low social status have higher chances of becoming ill and usually receive low-quality services. Functionalism theory has received heavy critics on this ground for failing to recognize the fact that power differences among groups in every society (Eton, 2010). For instance, in Australia, the federal government acknowledges that low-income earners experience difficulty in financing services not covered by Medicare. As a result, initiatives such as low-income earners card have been put in place by the government.
Another notable difference between functionalism and Weberianism is that the former highly regards the concept of cohesion and stability while in the latter, the concept is understated. The theory of social functionalism is built on the notion of the existence of social stratification in every human society. Stratifications such as family and religions are perceived as beneficial by functionalists (Ottoboni & Iacono, 2013). In this regards, most qualified persons are obliged to provide services related to their professions. Nurses and other health practitioners are motivated to work by the fact that their services are needed in the society, and they are in best position to satisfy those needs. On the other hand, Weberianism theory believes that nurses and other health practitioners are motivated by the need to meet their financial needs. According to Max Weber, nurses and other health professionals tends to medicalize social problems such as obesity to provide an extra source of income to these professionals where in some instances, potential solutions are neglected.
Finally, functionalism does not acknowledge Marxism viewpoint of conflict and diversity as important aspects of reality which is recognized by Weberianism. Functionalists’ viewpoint is that members of society are held intact by orderliness and cooperation which at best ensures that society is a function well (Talcot, 2013). On the other hand, Weberianism acknowledges that there is a struggle for scarce resources in every society. In this regard, Weberianism argument is that society will be likely be characterized by competition among members rather cooperation advocated by functionalism.

How functionalism and Weberianism contributes to the knowledge of health practitioners

As mentioned earlier, both theorists are sociological theories. However, despite the above-discussed differences between functionalism and Weberianism, both theories significantly contribute to enlightening health professionals. Firstly, both theories enable nurses and health practitioners in varying perspectives, thus allowing them to make informed decisions when analyzing different health scenarios. For instance, functionalism theories equip nurses with relevant knowledge that allows them to analyze society from a macro perspective (Peet & Elaine, 2009). According to functionalism theory, any society is usually made of a different component that fits together as a whole for continuous success. In this regard, nurses understand that their role as a healthcare provider is one of the vital elements in the society wellbeing that guarantee order and stability.
Sociological theories also play a crucial role in ensuring that nurses and health practitioners are acutely aware on what the society expects from them. For instance, according to the functionalism theory, health practitioners have a role in diagnosing the person’s illness, make the best decision on how to treat the identified illness and help their patients in the process of recovery. Moreover, functionalism elaborates on methods that apply to the nurses to make their work easier. For instance, nurses and health practitioners are expected to establish a healthy relationship with their patients (Ottoboni & Iacono, 2013). In this regard, nurses are supposed to provide accurate advice and instructions to their patients and ensure that they are correctly followed.
Secondly, sociological theories enable to ensure that nurses and other healthcare practitioners understand the external factors that determine the probability of one to get sick and their capacity to access health care services. For instance, Weberianism theory explains how low-income earners tend to fall sick more frequently compared to higher income earners. Weberianism arguments reflect in the Australian health care sector where people in the main cities and urban areas have been observed to have excellent health status compared to those who reside in the rural or remote areas (Berman, Snyder, Kozier, Jones, & Dwyer, 2014). Moreover, life expectancy in the countryside is also lower compared to the main cities. In this perspective, sociological theories ensure that nurses understand how to handle patients from a different social background whose capability to access better healthcare services.


The above discussion clearly shows that sociological theories tend to agree on some viewpoints while differing on others. Specifically, this paper discussed functionalism and Weberianism as sociological theories from health care perspectives. As it is revealed in the discussion, both methods agree that healthcare is a major factor that profoundly determines the success of a particular society. According to Weberianism, achieving and maintaining exemplary health status is an important element that influences growth and instability of every community. Both theories also view illness as an occurrence that disrupts people’s capability to fulfill their social obligations. For instance, according to functionalism theory, a sick person is expected to supply medical documents to their workstations from their doctors to prove they are ill. Finally, both theories support the notion that a better relationship between healthcare services provider and patients is vital in the effort to overcome illness in the society. However, both theories differ on various grounds. For instance, in functionalism, the concept of cohesion and diversity is highly recognized while in Weberianism, the concept is understated. Despite the observed similarities and differences, the two theories play a significant role in enlightening nurses. Functionalism ensures that nurses understand what the society expects from them while Weberianism enables nurses to understand how social, economic and political factors affect health care systems.


Amzat, J., & Razum, O. (2014). Medical Sociology in Africa. New York: Springer.
Berman, A., Snyder, J., Kozier, B., Jones, T., & Dwyer, T. (2014). Kozier & Erb’s Fundamentals of Nursing Australian Edition. Sydney: Pearson Higher Education AU.
Eton, D. (2010). Why we need response shift: an appeal to functionalism. The quality of Life Research, 19(6), 929-930.
Faia, M. (2006). Dynamic Functionalism: Strategy and Tactics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Frayan, C. (2012). Mapping the Sociology of Health and Medicine: America, Britain, and Australia Compared. New York: Springer.
Ottoboni, G., & Iacono, M. (2013). An integrative body therapy approach: The Neo-Functionalism approach. Body, Movement & Dance in Psychotherapy, 8(1), 43-55.
Peet, R., & Elaine, H. (2009). Theories of Development, Second Edition: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives. New York: Guilford Press.
Talcot, P. (2013). Social System. London: Routledge.
Tyrrell, E. F., Levack, W. M., Ritchie, L. H., & Keeling, S. M. (2012). Nursing contribution to the rehabilitation of older patients: patient and family perspectives. Journal of Advanced Nursing., 68(11), 2466-2476.
Willis, K., Daly, J., Kealy, M., Small, R., Koutroulis, G., Green, J., . . . Thomas, S. (2007). The essential role of social theory in qualitative public health research. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 31(5), 438-443.

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