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Functionalist Concepts Of The Nuclear Family

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2088 words Published: 18th May 2017

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Murdock (1949) studied 250 different societies and concluded that the family is so functional to society, that it is unavoidable and universal since neither the individual nor society could survive without it. He argued that every nuclear family has these four essential functions without which society could not continue sexual, reproductive, and economic and education. All these four functions are essential according to Murdock without sexual and reproductive no member of society would be there, life would stop if there was no economic function that is family providing for its members and without education, socialisation would not be there hence absence of culture. Murdock has been criticised for not considering whether the functions of the family could be performed by other social institutions and he does not examine alternatives to the family.

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Parsons (1955) studied the modern American family in the 50’s. He argued that there are two basic and irreducible functions of the family, these are, the primary socialisation of children which Parsons sees as a responsibility of the family to shape the child’s personality to suite to the needs of society. The second function is the stabilisation of adult personalities, the family gives adults the emotional support necessary to cope with the stresses of everyday life. (Taylor and Richardson etl 2002). Parsons as with Murdock has been criticised for showing the picture of the family as attuned children and compassionate spouses caring for each other’s needs.

There is a natural division of labour within the nuclear family, roles are segregated positively and everyone carry out different roles, for example the instrumental male, whose role is to provide for the family thus the bread winner and expressive female whose role is to provide warmth, love and care for children at home. Based on Biology the woman is the child bearer therefore has to look after the child, this role maintains social stability. Family patterns have changed with time such as cohabitation, rise of reconstituted families and increase in single or lone parent in western family life and changes in the law on divorce have made it easier to obtain.

Functionalist theory has been criticised to have concentrated on the family being positive and gives little attention to its weaknesses while in feminism the nuclear family is oppressive to women due to gender distinctions in domestic duties. Functionalists argue that the family is of equal profit to everyone, however Marxists argue that society developed by the need of the capitalist economy. It is the bourgeoisie who benefits not the whole society. Functionalists focus too much on the significance that the family has for society and disregard the sense family life has for individual.

Radical psychiatric argue against functionalism for ignoring the negative aspect of the family like domestic violence. Functionalists also ignore different types of families by focussing mainly on nuclear family. Interactionist David Clark (1991) identified four types of marriage arguing against functionalist, not all families are the same. Functionalist depicts everything as positive in the family while radical psychiatric looks at the negative side of the family.

Feminism is a conflict theory that sees the family as patriarchal. Men gain more in a family than women. They view the family on a macro scale. Feminists shows how men dominate social relationships thus symmetrical conjugal roles is seen as an allegory. Feminist argues that Men oppress women through domestic violence, the economic involvement to society made by women’s domestic labour within the family.

Liberal feminist Wollstonecraft (1792) wanted equality for women in terms of rights, liberties and vote by the change of law and policy. Radical feminists like Millett (1970) argue that the organisation of society enables men to dominate women. They believed that gender distinctions are politically and socially constructed therefore wanted radical reforms and social change. Kate Millet invented the term “The personal is political” meaning everything in society is political. Radical Feminists think not just patriarchal men that benefit from family but all men. Sociolist feminists look at gender as the basis. Sociolist Marxists combine gender with class. They argue that there is a dual oppression for women that they have to go to work as well as work at home.

Marxists feminist believe that the destruction of the capitalist society brings equality to everything. Lesbian feminists believe society forces them into heterosexuality so that men can oppress them. They challenge heterosexuality as a means of male supremacy. Humanist feminists argue that society only allows men to self-develop not women and that society distorts women’s human potential.

Marxist feminist Bentson (1972) argues that family responsibilities make male workers less likely to withdraw from labour, with wife and children to support. Ansley (1972) sees the emotional support in family, stabilises male workers thus making them less likely to take their frustration out on the system. Feeley (1972) sees the family as a dictatorial unit dominated by the husband and also the family values teach obedience. Children learn to accept hierarchy and their position in it. Greer (2000) is a radical feminist who believes that family life continues to disadvantage and oppress women. She points out Britain has very high divorce rate thus less stability in families.

Marxist feminist like functionalist they tend to ignore the diversity of modern family life assuming everyone lives in heterosexual nuclear family. They paint a very negative picture of family life possibly exaggerated. Unlike functionalists who see male and female roles being different but equal, Marxist feminists believe that men dominate family relationships. Feminist theory discards functionalist view that society as a whole is benefited by socialisation in the family but rather men benefits more. Women are portrayed as passive victims of exploitation, it does not take into account women who abuse men by fighting back. Functionalist believes that norms and values benefits society while for feminist they benefit men more for example obedience, women being obedient to men. Feminists focus on nuclear family only and the negative aspect of it. Increase in awareness of women’s rights has influenced the norms of society.

Marxists views of family sees socialisation process results in the spread of a ruling class philosophy, whereby individuals are deceived into accepting the capitalist system and the supremacy of the capitalist class thus hegemony.Bourgoisie benefits by creating a labour force and proletariat continue to be exploited. Engel s (1972) argued that bourgeois nuclear family as an institution which oppressed women. They were seen mainly as children bearers, economically dependent to their husbands and remain faithful to them. According to Engels the family is designed to control women and protect property thus men needed to know their children in order to pass on their property.

Marxists say the family serves capitalism in four ways. The family acts as a safety valves for the stress and frustration of working class men, the family as a unit of consumption buys the goods and services provided by capitalism. Women domestic work is unpaid which benefits capitalism and lastly the family socialises children thereby reproducing both labour power and acceptance of capitalism false consciousness. Zaretsky (1976) analysed that the family is one place where male workers can feel they have power and control. This helps them accept their oppression in wider society, furthermore Zaretsky sees the family as a main prop to the capitalist economy.

Marxists view of divorce in families is seen by increased economic pressure from unemployment this may place added strain and also family members living longer could increase pressure on relationships.

Marxists decline the functionalist view that society based on value consensus and thus benefits all. Instead they see the welfare of powerful groups influencing the way society is controlled. Marxist view ignores family diversity it sees the nuclear family as being simply determined by the economy. This theory reproduces conflict between classes bourgeoisie and proletariat while in factionalists family operates as united everything benefits society. Capitalist system is dominated both economically by rich at the expense of the poor but seen as a fair system by functionalists that works together in the interest of all members causing limited conflict in society. Anthropologists have suggested that the emergence of the nuclear family did not actually coincide with emergence of capitalism. Somerville (2000) argues that Zaretsky exaggerates the importance of the family as a protection from life in capitalist society. As with functionalism reproduce social stability, Marxism produces labour force and feminism produce patriarchy.

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Interactionism also known as interpretive humans are seen as symbolic creatures meaning we define what is around us through signs and language. They study families on a micro scale instead of generalising the whole population, they also look at what family live is actually like rather than how it should be or how it is assumed to be.Interactionists view families as different and unique thus there is no one way of family life, like other perspectives would suggest. The way a family behaves and interacts is based on interpretation of meanings and roles. We are products of our culture what we take as common sense or reality varies according to the culture we live in.

Goffman (1969) compares life to drama, we are actors who take on roles and act them out as public performances. Each role has its own script which tells us how to act and what cues to expect from other members involved in our interaction. Bauman (1990) argues that roles and relationships learnt in the family are essential to shaping our future. Not all families are close and warm family metaphors are often used to represent closeness, for example using the term brother and sister amongst members of political organisations.

Kellner (1964) looked at socially constructed roles in a marriage, argues that the reality of marriage is an ongoing construction which needs to be reaffirmed, negotiated and renegotiated. Clark (1991) conducted a study of how couples constructed a meaningful marriage. He identified four types of marriage. Drifting marriages where meanings and ideas of the future are unclear, surfacing marriages often made up of people who have been married before, establishing marriages newly wed couple for long term future and lastly struggling marriages financial problems often from unemployment causes tension and anxiety. The conjugal roles in interactionism show that the roles of husband and wife are constantly evolving. For example both husband and wife working and sharing domestic tasks.

Interactionist view families on a micro scale so can discover how individuals make family life based on interactions with each other. They are not interested in generalisations about family life but seek to understand how families are unique. They go further than the common sense view of families that functionalism believes in and look at the meanings of what family life is actually like. Unlike functionalism, Marxism and feminism where there is a set function of the family, interactionism is different for there is no one set function of the family. Families can differ based on their interactions, meanings, roles and culture. The discovery of four different types of marriage offers an opposing argument to functionalism, not an ideal nuclear family.

It has been criticised while concentrating on meanings, motives and action it ignores the wider structures in which families operate and are shaped. Sometimes generalisations of families are useful as they allow the development of political social policy. Interpretive approaches try to comprehend the family from the perspective of its members.

This research should give you an insight on how the families have changed with time. From different views and approaches, understanding families from traditional way of views to modern family’s ways of view.


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