As it is clear, a particular or some latent functions of an element or a particular structure may prove to be dysfunctional for the system as such. Example: The manifest function of the regulation of drugs by the government is to protect consumers against injurious substances. Its latent function may be to delay the introduction of new, lifesaving drugs. This latent function, it is obvious, is dysfunctional for the social system. Similarly, the manifest function of Western health institutions has been to reduce illness, premature death and human misery; the latent function has been to promote a population explosion and massive famine in the underdeveloped countries. These latent functions are definitely ‘dysfunctional’ in nature.
There are, therefore, many instances in which latent functions might more precisely be called “latent dysfunctions”. Because they tend to undermine and weaken institution or td impede attainment of its manifest functions.
Interlink between Latent and Manifest Functions
As H.M. Johnson has pointed out the distinction between manifest and latent functions is essentially relative and not absolute. A function may appear to be ‘manifest’ for some participants in the social system and ‘latent’ for others. But the individuals, many times, are not aware of the latent, or manifest dysfunctions of most of the partial structures of society. Still the distinction between them is of some importance.
Firstly, if the sociologist is not aware of the possibility of latent functions, he might often think that some partial structures have no function at all. Further, he might become quite contented with discovering manifest functions only. It is here, that the sociologist in his investigation has got ample chance to go beyond his “common sense” to find out explanation for certain social element in terms of latent functions and dysfunctions.
Secondly, any social reformer must be sufficiently aware of the latent functions and dysfunctions of any partial structure which he wants to reform or change. His proposals for reform would become ineffective, if he is not conscious of these functions. In fact, “knowledge of the way in which society actually “works” is the only sound basis for social planning. Naive moralizing can be not only ineffectual but wasteful and otherwise harmful”. For example, mere launching a crusade against the so called ‘corrupt’ political machines in a city or a province in a blind manner is of no use if one is ignorant of the latent functions of ‘corruption’.
Finally, the distinction will help one to know or estimate the effects of transformation of a previously latent function into a manifest function, the distinction also it involves the problem of the role of knowledge in human behavior and the problems of “manipulation” of human behavior.
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