Why Does Merton Think Making a Distinction Between Manifest and Latent Functions Matters?
This is the rationale for the distinction between manifest functions and latent functions; the first referring to those objective consequences for a specified unit (person, subgroup, social or cultural system) which contribute to its adjustment or adaptation and were so intended; the second referring to unintended and unrecognized consequences of the same order. Clarifies the analysis of seemingly irrational social patterns. In the first place, the distinction aids the sociological interpretation of many social practices which persist even though their manifest purpose is clearly not achieved. The time-worn procedure in such instances has been for diverse, particularly lay, observers to refer to these practices as "superstitions," "irrationalities," "mere inertia of tradition," etc. In other words, when group behavior does not-- and, indeed, often cannot--attain its ostensible purpose there is an inclination to attribute its occurrence to lack of intelligence, sheer ignorance, survivals, or so-called inertia. Thus, the Hopi ceremonials designed to produce abundant rainfall may be labelled a superstitious practice of primitive folk and that is assumed to conclude the matter. It should be noted that this in no sense accounts for the group behavior. It is simply a case of name-calling; it substitutes the epithet "superstition" for an analysis of the actual role of this behavior in the life of the group. Given the concept of latent function, however, we are reminded that this behavior may perform a function for the group, although this function may be quite remote from the avowed purpose of the behavior.
As well, schools use various media for instruction, enable the preservation of knowledge through works such as manuscripts and artifacts, and enable students to innovate. The latent functions of education, on the other hand, are less intended and recognized but remain to be among the benefits that education provides (Shepard 369). These functions include the inculcation of discipline, athletic training, prevention of delinquency, and the matching of marriage partners. These functions are seen as both positive and negative, depending on the reference point.
Shepard, Jon. Sociology. 11th ed. Independence, KY: Cengage/Wadsworth Publishing.