“To discover this inner dynamic of society, therefore, the sociologist must frequently disregard the answers that the social actors themselves would give to his questions and look for explanations that are hidden from their own awareness. This essentially Durkheimian approach has been carried over into the theoretical approach now called functionalism. In functional analysis society is analyzed in terms of its own workings as a system, workings that are often obscure or opaque to those acting within the system. The contemporary American sociologist Robert Merton has expressed this approach well in his concepts of “manifest” and “latent” functions. The former are the conscious and deliberate functions of social processes, the latter the unconscious and unintended ones.
Thus the “manifest” function of antigambling legislation may be to suppress gambling, its “latent” function to create an illegal empire for the gambling syndicates. Or Christian missions in parts of Africa “manifestly” tried to convert Africans to Christianity, “latently” helped to destroy the indigenous tribal cultures and this provided an important impetus towards rapid social transformation. Or the control of the Communist Party over all sectors of social life in Russian “manifestly” was to assure the continued dominance of the revolutionary ethos, “latently” created a new class of comfortable bureaucrats uncannily bourgeois in its aspirations and increasingly disinclined toward the self-denial of Bolshevik dedication. Or the “manifest” function of many voluntary associations in America is sociability and public service, the “latent” function to attach status indices to those permitted to belong to such associations.”
Cybernetics and Systems Theory in the Principia CyberneticaWeb
"A distinction made within the structural-functional school of sociology referring to at least three kinds of dimensions of social behavior. A distinction (a) between proclaimed (manifest) and real purposes (latent) of particular acts (b) between purposes of which the members of a society are aware (manifest) and of which these members are not aware (latent) of (c) between the effects or actions which are intended (manifest) and unintended (latent)."