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Sociology Of The Family Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2397 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The family has always been regarded as the cornerstone of society. In pre-modern and modern societies it has been seen as the most basic unit of social organization and one which carries out important functions, such as socializing children. The functionalist view the family as a positive institution, that has positive function in society reproducing social stability, while feminists sees the family as negative and reproduces patriarchy. Marxism believes the family is socially constructed to benefit the bourgeoisie while interactionists look at family at a micro-scale without generalisation.

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Functionalists view the family as a nuclear family and assume that the family is a positive beneficial institution in which family members receive unconditional love, nurturing and care. They believe that society is based on consensus, meaning we are all socialised to agree on how to behave, thus reproducing norms and values. Functionalists look at society on a macro scale. They believe that each part of society has a function to make sure that society runs smoothly and everything stays in harmony, for example, education has a function to make sure that people are educated to be good at the job they will get after school. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008).

Murdock (1949) studied 250 different families and stated he found evidence that the nuclear family is universal because, without the sexual and reproduction there would not be new members in the family, and without economic and educational functions where the family provide for its members and the young are socialised into societies norms and values, culture would not exist. In the absence of culture human society could not function. 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. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008).

Parsons (1955) states that there are two irreducible functions of the family, primary socialisation through which children learn to accept the norms and values of society and stabilisation of adult families, that is helping the adults to cope with stresses of everyday life by giving them the necessary emotional support. The emotional support of spouses in marriage helps prevent stress overpowering the individual and frightening the stability of society. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)

Parsons explains that conjugal roles in functionalism family are segregated. Everyone carries out different complimentary roles. Instrumental male going to work to provide for the family and expressive females providing love, warmth and care for children. Based on Biology, the woman is the child bearer and has to look after the child. These roles maintain social stability. Norms and value in functionalism benefit society for example respect keeps peace and social stability therefore a conflict free society.

Functionalism assumes that the family is positive and nuclear while marxism argues that the family is negative and is extended family, reproducing conflict between classes. Functionalists also assume that the family has equal benefit to everyone, however, marxists argue that the capitalist economy depend on the family to purchase and work to produce goods that will benefit the capitalist society. Functionalists state that the nuclear family is responsible for socialisation while radical psychiatrists see this as negative because socialisation can be negative hence causing racial attitudes or criminal behaviour, because not all norms and values are positive. Functionalists ignore different types of families and focus mainly on the nuclear family. Functionalists argue that there is rise of reconstituted families, increase of single or lone parent families and changes in the law on divorce have made divorce easier to obtain in western family life.

Radical psychiatric criticises functionalism for depicting the nuclear family as “rosy” by ignoring the negative aspect of domestic violence and interactionist David Clark ( 1991) shows financial problems, issues and struggles in marriage caused by unemployment, and the fact that an ideal nuclear family might divorce, saying not all families are the same. Interactionalist Clarke, 1991 identified four types of marriages hence arguing against functionalist nuclear family. Parsons does not see the family as diverse. For even within society there are distinctions founded on class, region, ethnicity and religion. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)

In contrast to functionalists consensus theory the feminist perspective is a conflict theory, which argues that the family reproduces patriarchy where men benefit from the family. They also argue that men oppress women through domestic violence. Feminists have also highlighted women oppression in domestic duties due to gender distinctions within the family, for example, women cooking and cleaning. Feminist theory has made sociologists view the family as an institution involving power relationships. Feminists view society on a macro scale.

Liberal feminists like Wollstonecraft, 1792 wanted to get legal reforms in equality whereby women get same equality and justice as men. Radical feminists think that all men benefit from women’s oppression not just patriarchal men. They thought that gender distinctions are politically and socially constructed. Kate Millet came out with the term “The personal is political” meaning that family life, choices and decisions are not our own but political. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)

Marxist feminist basic position is that the family with its exploitation of women serves the needs and perpetuate capitalism. Bentson argues “As an economic unit, the nuclear family is a valuable stabilizing force in capitalist society. Since the husbands-father’s earnings pay for the production which is done in the home, his ability to withhold labour from the market is much reduced” Bentson (1972). (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)

Ansley (1972) shows the emotional support in family stabilises male workers and makes them less likely to take their frustration out of the system. Feely (1972) argues that the family value teaches obedience to children therefore learning to accept hierarchy of power and their position within it. Greer (2000) a radical feminist states that families in Britain are not as stable as they were, with the divorce rate becoming high. According to Geer it is due to women not being happy as wives and no longer wants oppression from their husbands. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)

Marxist feminism and functionalists, tends to ignore the diversity of modern family life assuming that everyone lives in heterosexual nuclear families. They also paint a very negative picture of family life possibly exaggerated, for example, they do not focus on the influence racism might affect families. They portray women as passive victims of capitalist and patriarchal exploitation.

They ignore the likelihood of women fighting back against exploitation and succeeded in changing the nature of family relationships.it does not take into account women who abuse men. Functionalists assume that everyone benefit in the family for example respect keeps peace and solidarity in society while feminists argues that it’s only men who benefit for women are taught to respect men. functionalists states that conjugal roles are segregated where everyone carries different roles while feminists argue that the segregation causes unequal division of labour, captivity of women in families through forced free labour. Post-modernist Young and Willmott (1975 ) criticises both feminism and functionalist approaches as out-dated in their approach “symmetrical family” where they believe there is joint roles and men now do their fair share.

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Feminist and Marxist theories are similar, for they are both conflict theories. The Marxist perspective of family is that family is socially constructed and negative thus reproducing conflict between classes. It also benefits the bourgeoisie by creating labour force and proletariat endure exploitation. Engel (1972) argued the monogamous bourgeois nuclear family developed to help solve the problems of inheritance of private property from father to son then to son therefore keeping wealth in the family. The family is designed to control women and protect property. The bourgeois nuclear family emerged with capitalism. Engel concluded that the family is patriarchal and benefits men. He said it is designed to guarantee and perpetuate male power through inheritance of property therefore serving the interest of capitalism. Marxist views the family on a macro scale. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)

Marxists say the family serves capitalism in four ways: First by socialising children thereby reproducing both labour power and false consciousness. Women’s domestic work is unpaid which benefits capitalists. The family acts as a safety valve where working class men release their stresses and frustrations. The family as a unit of consumption buys the goods and services provided by capitalism. Zaretsky (1976) claimed that the family “props up” capitalism. He also believes the family uses the products of capitalism and this makes the bourgeoisie to reproduce surplus value. The family is one place that male workers can feel that they have power and control. This helps them accept their oppression in wider society. He also state that the nuclear family serves capitalism by reproducing labour force and women do unpaid work. Marxists view increased economic pressure from unemployment may place added strain resulting to divorce. They also state that family members are living longer and this could increase pressure on relationships. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)

Marxists view the socialisation process in the family results in hegemony while functionalists view the socialisation process within the family as encouraging compliance with positive norms and values which contribute to social stability. The marxist view ignores family diversity and sees the nuclear family as being simply determined by the economy. Anthropologists have suggested that the emergence of the nuclear family did not actually coincide with the emergence of capitalism. Somerville (2000) argues that Zaretsky exaggerates the advantage of the family as a refuge from life in capitalist society. Marxists view respect learnt during socialisation as beneficial to authority by the proletariat while view it as a benefit to society by maintaining social stability. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)

Contrary to marxism the interactionlist perspective views the family on a micro scale instead of generalising the whole population. They look at what family life is like rather than how it should be or assumed to be. Interactionlist looks at meanings given to everyday life. Humans are viewed as symbolic creatures by defining what is around them through signs and symbols and are also seen as active having control over own actions. Interactionlist states that we are products of our culture, what we take as common sense or reality varies according to the culture we live in. Family roles and meanings are a result of culture.

Goffman (1969) compares life to drama and that we are actors who take on roles and act them out as public performances. We play diverse roles, parent, child, sibling, employee, friend acting differently in one role than we would in another this is different to functionalism which would suggest that our roles gives us our place in society. Bauman (1990) says that roles and relationships learnt in the family are essential to shaping our future. Close relationships in the family represents ‘insider group’ which gives us a sense of belonging and define who we are. The notion of ‘us and them’ comparing outsider groups is similar to radical psychiatry. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)

Berfer and Kellner (1964) looked at socially constructed roles in a marriage. They argue that the reality of marriage is an on-going construction which needs to be reaffirmed, negotiated and renegotiated meaning this roles of both husbands and wives are constantly evolving for example both parents working, women going to work and men staying at home, or sharing of domestic tasks. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)

Clark (1991) looked at how couples construct a meaningful marriage. He identified four types of marriage: drifting marriage where meanings and ideas of the future are unclear, surfacing marriages which are often made of people who have been married before, establishing marriages which newly wed couple plan for long term future and struggling marriages where financial problems often from unemployment causes tension and anxiety. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)

Interactionist looks at families on a micro scale so that they 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. An interactionist goes further than the common sense view of families that functionalism believes in and look at the meanings of what family life is actually like.

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. Interactionlist do not take into account lone family. Gender roles are not so defined like they used to be.

Functionalists had an idealized and rosy view of the family, certainly sociological research and theories have challenged these assumptions which functionalism was based. On the other hand, marxists and feminists, amongst others have questioned whether the family can be seen as functional for individuals and for society. Different approaches described above gives a deeper insight of how the family has evolved gradually from the tradition setting to the modern family in society today and is continually evolving hence becoming more specialised.


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