Parson's Social System (Structural Functionalists)
Talcott Parsons attempted to develop and perfect a general analytic model
suitable for analyzing all types of collectivities. Unlike the Marxists,
who focused on the occurance of radical change, Parsons explored why societies
are stable and functioning. His model is AGIL, which represents the
four basic functions that all social systems must perform if they are to
persist. It was one of the first open systems theories of organizations.
Adaptation: the problem of acquiring sufficient resources.
Goal Attainment: the problemof settling and implementing goals
Integration: the problem of maintain solidarity or coordination among
the subunits of the system.
Latency: the problem of creating, perserving, and transmitting the
system's distinctive culture and values
He applied this model at the social psychological, structural, and ecological
levels. In terms of the larger society the organizational type that served
each function (plus some examples):
Adapation -- Organizations oriented to economic production -- Business firms
Goal Attanment -- Org's oriented to political goals -- Government agencies,
Integration -- Integrative Organizations -- Courts, political parties, social-control
Latency -- Pattern -maintainence organization -- museums, educational org's,
What is a goal for a specific organization is a function for the larger
society. An organization may expect to get resources and approval based
on the importance of it's function in society. This goal/fuction system
can also be reproduced at the formal organization level through examination
of subunits. While he doesn't insist that specific subunits will be created,
he does imply they will form based on these four divisions, because the
various functional needs are somewhat in conflict.
For example, in informal groups inherant tensions may create the need for
a "task leader" to lead toward to he goal and a "socio-emotional
leader" to handle tensions and motivate people.
Parsons further distinquises his AGIL typology. For example, in Goal Attainment,
he describes four kinds of decisions:
Policy Decisions -- deciding what goals to pursue and how they will
be attained (Gg subsector)
Allocative Decisions -- allocation of resources and responsibilities
among personnel (Ga subsector)
Coordinative Decisions -- how personnel will be motivated and contributions
coordinated (Gi subsector)
Supporting Values -- values that serve to legitimate and authorize
decision-making rights in system (Gl subsector). (All above from Scott p.
Each of the other sectors in AGIL are likewise differentiated.
Parsons specifies that organizations are diffienrentiated from other social
systems by its orientation toward the attainment of a specified goal.
More inportantly for later researchers, Parsons distinguishes three major
levels of organizational structure: At the bottom is the technical system,
where the actual product is manufactured (workers, teachers in classrooms,
scientists in labs, etc.). Above this is the managerial system, who
mediate between the organization and the task environment and administer
the internal affairs. At the top is the institutional system, whose
function is to relate the organization to the larger society.
While Parson's system is comprehensive, explicit, and applicable at many
levels, it has many problems. It's difficult to operationalize his AGIL
variables and subsectors. It is actually more of a conceptual framework
than a utilizable theory with testable propositions.
Katz and Kahn: Organizational Subsystems
Katz and Kahn (1978) elaborate Parson's system and describe organizations
as having five subsystems:
1. Production : (throughput, transfromation of materials)
2. Supportive: (garner input resources, deal with output, gain legitimacy)
3. Maintenance: (recruitement, socialization, training, preserving
the system, rewards)
4. Adaptive: (sense environmental changes and determine meaning for
org, strategy -- product research, market research, long-range planning,
5. Managerial: (control, coordinate and direct subsystems, develop
policies, -- use both regulatory mechanisms (feedback) and authority structures
decision making and implementation).
They also see three main functions of the supportive subsystems -- procurement
of materials and resources, disposal and marketing of the product,
and an institutional subsystem (ala Parsons) the garners legitimacy
and support from the environment.