- AGIL paradigm
:"This article is about a sociological concept. For the chemical laser, see
All gas-phase iodine laser.
The AGIL paradigm is a sociological scheme created by American sociologist
Talcott Parsonsin the 1950s. It is a highly abstract systematic depiction of certain social necessities, which every society must meet to be able to maintain stable social life.Ritzer 2001: ch. 13] The AGIL paradigm is part of Parsons' larger social theory of structural functionalism, outlined in his notable book The Social System, which aims to construct a unified map of all social systems, or in other words, a grand theory of sociology.Mills 1980: ch. 2] Parsons' theory and AGIL paradigm as its core element dominated the sociological theory from the 1950s until the 1970s.
The functional prerequisites of social systems
Parsons' theory is a part of the sociological
paradigmof structural functionalism. Society, in this paradigm, is defined as a social system, that meets the essential functional prerequisites that provide the system for long term continuity. AGIL scheme outlines four systematically, or structurally arranged core functions, that are prerequisites for any society to be able to persist. Each of the four functions act as institutes in social system, each of the institutes having its own task.Parsons 1970, pp. 26 - 50]
*Adaptation, or the capacity of society to interact with the nature. This includes, among other things, gathering resources and producing commodities to social redistribution.
*Goal-attainment, or the capability to set goals for future and make decisions accordingly. Political resolutions and societal objectives are part of this necessity.
*Integration, or the harmonization of the entire society is a demand that the values and norms of society are solid and sufficiently convergent. This requires, for example, the religious system to be fairly consistent, and even in a more basic level, a common language.
*Latency, or latent pattern-maintenance, challenges society to maintain the integrative elements of the integration requirement above. This means institutions like family and school, which mediate belief systems and values between an older generation and its successor.
The four necessities aim to be intuitive. For example a tribal system of hunter-gatherers needs to gather food from the external world by hunting animals and gathering other goods. They need to have a set of goals and a system to make decisions, like when to migrate to better hunting grounds. The tribe also needs to have a common belief system that enforces any actions and decisions the community sees fit. Finally there needs to be some kind of educational system to pass on hunting and gathering skills and the common belief system. If these prerequisites are met, the tribe can sustain its existence.
Systematic depiction of AGIL functions
The four functions of AGIL scheme can be divided into external and internal problems, and further into long and short interval problems. External problems include the use of natural resources and making decisions to achieve goals, while keeping the community integrated and maintaining the common values and practices over succeeding generations count as internal problems. Furthermore, goal-attainment and keeping the peace by harmony and integration are tasks, that require immediate attention and management, and hence are functions of short interval. Adapting to external nature and looking after the perpetuity of common values count clearly as functions of long interval.
It is common to use a table to illustrate the four functions and their differences in spatial and temporal orientation.
This systematic representation is still intuitive. A modern industrialized nation state, for example, must meet the criteria of AGIL scheme. For long term perpetuity the nation must be adaptive, i.e it must have external natural resources and industry to produce necessary commodities, such as food and clothing. This kind of industry needs among other things stable economy, which is secured by political decisions that have a relatively quick effect. None of this is possible if the nation is not integrated enough to share the same beliefs and ambitions, and even more fundamentally, a common language to communicate. To secure this perpetual common ground there needs to be an educational system to bring new generations into the social system. Ritzer 2001, p. 155]
Each of the four individual functional necessities are further divided into four sub-categories. The four sub-categories are the same four functions as the major four AGIL categories, and hence, for example a community's adaption to environment might comprise of process of production (adaption), strategic goals for production (goal-attainment), economical system that integrates production mechanisms (integration), and common economical values (latency).
Criticism of the AGIL scheme
Parsons' theory has been criticised as being too abstract to be used constructively in any significant empirical research . While the four functions of AGIL scheme are intuitive and can many social systems can be described according the paradigm of Parsons' structural functionalism, one can question the utility that such an inspection brings to a scientific sociological study. Defenders of AGIL scheme can response, that there has indeed been situations, where social systems, such as industries have failed to operate because they have neglected one or more of the four functions. Hence, AGIL scheme can be used to be tested againt any political or economical operation to see if they meet the criteria.
An other notable criticism attacks AGIL schemes' blindness to take historical changes into account. Critics argue that Parsons' theory is unexcusably static and cannot flex to meet the criteria of changing society. While Parsons purports that AGIL scheme is a general theory of social functions, that can be applied to any social system in any time or place in mankind's history, critics contend that it is basically just a model of postwar United States, or even just an ideal social structure of the middle-class of United States.
last = Mills
first = C. Wright
authorlink = C. Wright Mills
title = The Sociological Imagination
publisher = Oxford University Press, Inc.
date = 1967
location = New York
last = Parsons
first = Talcott
authorlink = Talcott Parsons
title = The Social System
publisher = Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd
date = 1970
location = London
isbn = 0 7100 1931 9
last = Ritzer
first = George
authorlink = George Ritzer
coauthors = Barry Smart
title = Handbook of Social Theory
publisher = SAGE Publications Ltd
date = 2001
location = London
isbn = 0 7619 5840 1
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