Difference Wiki

Functionalism vs. Neofunctionalism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 30, 2023
Functionalism is a theory emphasizing societal institutions' roles in fulfilling social needs; neofunctionalism extends this to focus on integration, especially in a political context.

Key Differences

Functionalism believes that societal stability and equilibrium come from the interdependence of its various parts. Each part of society is functional for the stability of the whole. It focuses on the macro-level of social structure and sees society as an entity relatively stable and integrated. In contrast, neofunctionalism adapts these ideas to more dynamic, evolving contexts, especially in international relations and political integration. It posits that economic and political integration, especially in the context of regional organizations like the European Union, leads to increased cooperation and shared governance among nations.
Functionalism often explains social phenomena in terms of the purposes they serve in fulfilling societal needs. It emphasizes consensus and order in society, considering societal institutions as essential for maintaining this order and stability. Neofunctionalism differs by focusing more on the process of integration between states and the role of supranational institutions. It suggests that cooperation in one area leads to cooperation in other areas, a process termed 'spillover', which is central to neofunctionalism but not addressed in traditional functionalism.
Functionalism was primarily developed by sociologists like Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons. This theory is criticized for its overemphasis on harmony and stability, often overlooking social change and conflict. Neofunctionalism, formulated by Ernst B. Haas and further developed by other scholars, addresses some criticisms of classical functionalism by incorporating ideas about gradual political integration and the role of non-state actors, which were not central in traditional functionalism.
Functionalism tends to view change as a gradual adjustment to maintain societal equilibrium. It considers social institutions as naturally evolving to meet the changing needs of society. Neofunctionalism approaches change through the lens of political and economic integration, where change is often more deliberate and guided by the evolving policies and goals of supranational entities, particularly in the context of regional integration.

Comparison Chart


Societal institutions, stability
Political and economic integration

Key Proponents

Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons
Ernst B. Haas


Societal level, general
Political entities, especially in Europe

Approach to Change

Gradual adjustment for equilibrium
Driven by integration and 'spillover'


Overlooks conflict and change
May overstate ease of integration

Functionalism and Neofunctionalism Definitions


Functionalism analyzes society in terms of the functions of its constituent elements.
In functionalism, religion is seen as a means to foster a sense of community and shared values.


Neofunctionalism extends functionalism to include the dynamics of political and economic integration.
Neofunctionalism assesses how economic agreements between nations can lead to political integration.


Functionalism views society as a system with interconnected parts serving specific functions.
In functionalism, the education system is seen as a means to socialize individuals into societal norms.


Neofunctionalism emphasizes the role of supranational institutions in fostering integration.
Neofunctionalism views the European Commission as a key driver in advancing European integration.


Functionalism considers social stability as arising from the interdependence of societal components.
Functionalism views the family unit as essential for stabilizing society by providing emotional support.


Neofunctionalism proposes that cooperation in one area leads to cooperation in others, known as 'spillover'.
Neofunctionalism explains the evolution of the European Coal and Steel Community into a broader European integration.


Functionalism emphasizes the role of societal institutions in maintaining social order.
Functionalism explains the legal system as a mechanism to enforce norms and resolve conflicts.


Neofunctionalism addresses the shortcomings of functionalism by focusing on the process of integration.
Neofunctionalism looks at how the Schengen Agreement facilitated not just economic but also social integration in Europe.


Functionalism interprets social phenomena by their contributions to societal equilibrium.
Functionalism suggests that political institutions function to maintain order and consensus in society.


Neofunctionalism focuses on the integration of states, particularly in the context of political and economic unions.
Neofunctionalism examines the European Union's development as a process of increasing political cooperation.


The doctrine that the function of an object should determine its design and materials.


A theory of regional integration inspired by the integration processes between countries in Europe.


A doctrine stressing purpose, practicality, and utility.


(Philosophy) The doctrine in the philosophy of mind according to which mental states are defined by their causes and effects.


(architecture) A doctrine, in several fields, that the function of something should be reflected in its design and the materials used in its construction.


(philosophy) The definition of mental states in terms of their causes and effects.


(social science) The idea that social and cultural cohesion are a function of the interdependence and interactions of the institutions of a society.


(psychology) A general school of thought that considers psychological phenomena in terms of their role in adaptation to the person's environment.


(linguistics) functional linguistics


A psychology based on the assumption that all mental process are useful to an organism in adapting to the environment.


Any doctrine that stresses utility or purpose.


A psychology based on the assumption that all mental process are useful to an organism in adapting to the environment


Any doctrine that stresses utility or purpose


How does neofunctionalism differ from functionalism in focus?

Neofunctionalism focuses on political and economic integration between states, unlike functionalism's broader societal view.

How does neofunctionalism address the concept of 'spillover'?

Neofunctionalism introduces the idea of 'spillover', where cooperation in one area leads to integration in others.

What is the basic premise of functionalism?

Functionalism views society as a system where all parts work together to promote social stability.

How do functionalism and neofunctionalism view social change?

Functionalism views change as a gradual process for maintaining equilibrium, while neofunctionalism sees it as part of the integration process.

What is a key criticism of functionalism?

Functionalism is often criticized for overlooking social conflicts and changes.

How is neofunctionalism relevant in the European context?

Neofunctionalism is particularly relevant in understanding the integration process within the European Union.

In what context did functionalism primarily develop?

Functionalism developed in the context of sociology and anthropology to explain societal structures.

What role does economic integration play in neofunctionalism?

Economic integration is seen in neofunctionalism as a starting point for broader political and social integration.

Who are the notable proponents of functionalism?

Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons are key figures in the development of functionalism.

What is the concept of 'spillover' in neofunctionalism?

'Spillover' in neofunctionalism refers to the process where integration in one area leads to integration in other areas.

How does functionalism view societal institutions?

Functionalism sees societal institutions as fulfilling specific functions essential for social stability.

How does functionalism explain social stability?

Functionalism explains social stability through the interdependence and functioning of various social institutions.

In what way does neofunctionalism extend the ideas of functionalism?

Neofunctionalism extends functionalism by applying its principles to the specific context of political and economic integration.

How does functionalism address societal needs?

Functionalism interprets different societal components as fulfilling specific biological and social needs.

What role do supranational entities play in neofunctionalism?

Neofunctionalism emphasizes the importance of supranational entities in driving state integration.

How does neofunctionalism view the European Union?

Neofunctionalism views the European Union as an example of economic and political integration guided by 'spillover' dynamics.

What aspects of society does functionalism focus on?

Functionalism focuses on social institutions, norms, and practices in maintaining societal equilibrium.

Does functionalism consider the role of conflict in society?

Functionalism tends to underemphasize the role of conflict in maintaining societal order.

How do functionalism and neofunctionalism view societal change?

Functionalism views change as a means to maintain equilibrium, while neofunctionalism sees it as part of the evolving process of integration.

What is the significance of supranational institutions in neofunctionalism?

Supranational institutions are central in neofunctionalism for facilitating and managing the integration process.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons