Merton’s Theory of Latent, Manifest Functions and Dysfunctions

Merton’s Theory of Latent, Manifest Functions and Dysfunctions


Manifest and latent functions are some of the works of Robert Merton, they are scientific concepts that were first applied and clarified for sociology. Due to the fact that Merton had interest in sharpening the tools that were to be used in functional analysis, it would be important to learn that manifest are conscious, deliberate and beneficial and on the other hand, latent ones are unconscious, they are unintended and harmful (Grabowska & Engbersen, 2016). It would be critical to differentiate between the two if you are to understand them in the depth that is needed, functions intended are known as manifest and when they are unintended, they are known as latent and they have a positive externality on the society in general. On the other hand, dysfunctions are unintended and their results are detrimental to the society, they are unintended and have a negative impact on people.


When it comes to functions, manifest are consequences of actions of people and they either observe them or expect them, one of the things that makes this one unique is that it is clearly understood by the participants in the action. One of the examples used by Merton is the rain dance that is harnessed by the community in order to produce rain, the outcome of the same is intended and desired by the people that participate in the ritual. On the other hand, latent functions are not desirable and neither recognized or intended by individuals (Abdul-Rasheed, Lateef, Yinusa, & Abdullateef, 2016). Latent effect on behavior are not clearly stated, known or even expected by the people involved in a given action thus they are identified by those that observe, it would be substantial to note that in the rain ceremony, the lament function is responsible for reinforcing the group identity and it is done by providing a good opportunity for all the members of the concerned group to interact and take part in a universal activity.

In his work, Berger helped to simply the work by describing a series of examples that bring to light the different between manifest functions and latent dysfunctions. One of the actions that are geared towards suppressing a vice is enactment of a legislation that would be important in suppressing gambling. Thus the latent functions help to reduce the rate of gambling. Another perfect example of Christianity introduction in Africa and is manifestly trying to convert Africans to Christians which would latently help destroy bad local cultures. Some of the associations globally manifest function is provision of the social service and the latent function is to bring about status to those that are already members of the associations.

Manifest functions play a very important role in social behavior but, Merton draws the attention of the people to the latent functions that are key in improving understanding of the social behavior. Sociologists globally have had to do research and come out with the reason for existence of traditions and institutions. Social consequences allow some of the practices to be used in the society and dictates not only the survival but also shows the way society operates (Turner, 2014).


It would be important to note that dysfunctions can either be manifest or latent. When doing differentiation of the same, know that functions are intended and their consequences are benevolent to the society, dysfunction are unintended due to the fact that they have a negative effect on the society (Bennett, 2014). Some like manifest dysfunctions are predictable thus individuals anticipate disruptions that come in handy with them. When a festival is held, a manifest dysfunction includes excessive production of garbage, it is then followed by latent dysfunction that is unexpected disturbance of order and due to bad transportation caused by traffic jam when people are going to a festival, latent dysfunction is represented by the fact that people would be late to work.

Strain Theory

Strain theory is among some of the criminology theories that are applied in a wide variety of fields in the current times, it was developed by Robert K. Merton in the year 1957. The theory explains that if individuals are pressurized to achieve goals that are socially acceptable without providing them with the means, it leads to strains that increases the chances of people committing crimes. It may also make the society develop other vices such as robbery. There are two types of strains; structures and individual. Structural strain explains all the process in the levels of society and affect perception of the people about their needs. Social structures play an important role and if they are inadequate or the regulations are inadequate, perception of individuals about means and opportunities would change inevitably. On the other hand, individual are difficulties experienced by individuals as they seek to fulfil their needs. Some people are under intense pressure of achieving societal goals and it would be important to know that if the goals are so significant, achieving them is what individuals would care about but not the means of achieving them (Turner, 2014). This explains that the structure of the society as well as the goals determines whether individuals would follow the right way in order to achieve goals or commit crimes in a bid to achieve them also.


Bennett, S. (2014). The Central Intelligence Agency’s armed Remotely Piloted Vehicle-supported counter-insurgency campaign in Pakistan–a mission undermined by unintended consequences? Journal of Terrorism Research, 5(3).

Grabowska, I., & Engbersen, G. (2016). Social remittances and the impact of temporary migration on an EU sending country: The case of Poland. Central and Eastern European Migration Review Special Issue: Social Remittances and Central and Eastern Europe: New Theoretical Angles and Empirical Landscapes Vol. 5, No. 2, 2016 Izabela Grabowska, Michał P. Garapich Mapping Social Remittances and ‘Segmented Development’in Central and Eastern Europe 5, 99.

Turner, S. (2014). Robert Merton and Dorothy Emmet: deflated functionalism and structuralism. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 44(6), 817-836.

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