Parsons, Talcott - A.G.I.L. Functional Imperatives for Social Systems

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

The structural-functional sociological theories of Talcott Parsons almost entirely dominated the field during his own lifetime. Parsons viewed society as a system of interacting social units, institutions and organizations. He was interested in the force of social norms, and how we come to feel that force and act accordingly (Parsons, 1971; Parsons, 1968; Parsons, 1951). One of the ways he conceptualized these social systems was as problem-solving devices. In his mind, social systems arose to solve four particular problems, listed in PAEI order below, for modern developed nation-state systems:

P – Adaptation: Social systems must cope with their external boundary conditions, such as their resource base, physical environment, territory and so on. Economic activity serves to solve problems of adaptation.

A – Goal Attainment: The goals of societies and social institutions have to be defined, resolving goal conflicts, prioritizing some over others, determining resource allocations and directing social energies. Political activity organizes and directs the goal attainment of modern social systems.

E – Integration: All of the adaptive efforts of social institutions within a society need to be integrated into a cohesive system. The institutions need to be regulated so that a harmonious society can emerge from their interaction. Legal systems solve this problem, seeking overarching principles for aligning social activities.

I – Latency: The encultured patterns of behaviour required by the social system must be maintained. Peoples’ motivation must be established and renewed, and the tensions they experience as they negotiate the social order must be managed. Furthermore, the cultural patterns that accomplish this renewal must themselves be maintained and renewed. Fiduciary systems such as families, schools and churches solve these problems of pattern/tension management.

These four functional imperatives (Adaptation, Goal Attainment, Integration, Latency: A.G.I.L.) provided what Parsons felt was a more complex and systemic account of social phenomena which previous theorists had tried to explain in terms of unitary causes.

1. Parsons, T. (1951). The Social System. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
2. Parsons, T. (1968). The Structure of Social Action: A Study in Social Theory with Special Reference to a Group of Recent European Writers. New York.: The Free Press.
3. Parsons, T. (1971). Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License