Assess the contribution of functionalist sociologists to our understanding of the family (24 marks)
Functionalists employ the idea of the nuclear family being the main universal family in society and most benefitting. The nuclear family functions to meet the pro dominant means of society (sexual reproduction, educational and economic functions). The family allows each member of the family to shine individually and enjoy success.
The functionalist sociologist Murdock believed that the nuclear family is found in every society because it performs four main functions that are essential to the existence of society and no other institution can perform. The four are reproductive, sexual, ...view middle of the document...
He believed that the family has two major functions. The first function is that the primary socialisation of children, in which the family teaches children the society’s culture and its shared values and norms. It also prepares them for life in society and the world of work. The second function is the stabilisation of adult personalities. In the family, adults can relax away from work in a loving environment. Adults are described as being themselves and letting themselves go in an undignified way. This is the idea that the family gets rid of the stresses of the workplace, and Parsons says it’s important to keep the economy going.
Like Murdock, Parsons is also criticised for creating a picture that the family is too harmonious and loving, he doesn’t take into account of things like domestic violence and child abuse.
Marxists also have their own views on family, their views are quite different to that of the functionalists. Althusser (1971) a French Marxist, argued that in order for capitalism to survive people must be taught how to think and behave, and the family (as well as schools and the mass media) was the best mechanism for doing this. Marxists argue ideology is the best tool for getting people to think and behave in a way you want them to. Therefore through the process of socialisation family immerses its members into a false consciousness (for example unlike functionalists which see the family as a harmonious institution, Marxists see the family as a place of conflict, with unequal relations of power between its members. This becomes analogous to the inequalities in society).
People also criticise the Marxists views on the family. Marxism puts forward narrow views about what families are and how they should be. Sociological perspectives such as Marxism are hopelessly outdated in their view of societies and individuals. A family is whatever people want it to be (whether it involves adults of the opposite sex, the same sex, own children, adopted children or whatever). From this perspective, therefore, the relationship between families and the social structure is largely meaningless for two reasons. Firstly, they reject the idea of social structures - which makes trying to identify and isolate any relationship between family groups and something that doesn’t exist (social structures) a fairly pointless exercise. Secondly, they reject the idea we can talk, in any useful way, about “the family”; all we have, in effect, is a variety of people living out their lives and lifestyles in ways they believe are acceptable and appropriate to how they want to live.
Feminists have their own views on family too. The feminists tend to agree that...