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Understanding Of The Diversity Of Family Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3366 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The key family types are Nuclear, Extended, Reconstituted and Lone parent. These are the family types that exist in contemporary Britain. The basic premise is that the family structure depends upon social and economical circumstances – as such family definition is open to cultural interpretation, norms and values. Whilst the family is adaptable-over the last Three hundred years in Britain, the family has changed and adapted, as we have moved from an agricultural society to industrial society.

Sociologist George Peter Murdoch who defined the universal Family concept stated:

“The nuclear family is a universal human social grouping. Either as the sole prevailing form of the family or as the basic unit from which more complex forms compounded, it exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every society”

The concept of the pre industrial extended family is somewhat of a misrepresentation – when you consider death rates of working class families. The extended family is referred to as vertical extensions; Aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings -grandparents, children, and grandchildren who all live together, are referred to horizontal extensions – the sexual relationships, and are monogamous within the extended and nuclear family. Polygamous relationships do exist within extended family, although this is predominately within specific cultures and religions. Examples being in the Moslem faith the act of polygamy are still practised; further more there are Christian sects such as the latter Day Saints who still practise polygamy, although such relationships are not legal within the European or American laws.

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The extended family can also be viewed as that of an extension to the nuclear family thru the inclusion of elders, such as grandparents, as many loan parents are female and they may well life or near their mothers, creating a matriarchal family extended unit. Extended reconstructed family, is considered to be when two opposite sex, or same sex adults with dependent children, either marry or cohabitate: thereby forming a reconstructed family – over wise known as step families. Therefore it is not surprising that the most rapidly growing family type is that of the Reconstructed / stepfamily. Statistically most children stay with their mothers when their parents either divorce or separate – so most children in a reconstructed family have step fathers – this brings in to question the social as opposed to the biological care and nurture. It is quite common in British contemporary society for cohabitation of unmarried parents. The average is 31% of all parents as quoted (http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/releases/2004/june/stepfamilies.aspx)

In contemporary society British society today Lone parenting is still predominately female orientated, however not exclusively as there has been a steady rise in men taking on the role of lone parenting estimates are that an average 11% of lone parents’ are now men. Attitudes in society have changed towards the lone parents. Nonetheless they are still passively ostracised from main stream society, by the media and government: as being less able, and a drain on society – this is a view most commonly associated with conservatism – as such in today’s society the conservatives plan to introduce a tax that benefits’ the traditional stereo typical nuclear family – which will effectively penalise both cohabiters and lone parents.

www.telegraph.co.uk/…/conservative/…/Tories-5-billion-tax-breaks-for-married-couples-benefit-rich-most.html therefore in reality stigma still exists for lone parents. Single mothers were not socially acceptable in pre – industrialised Britain, nor early industrialised – any off spring were sent to children’s homes. There are notorious examples of how the mother and children were often treated, and can be found in Irelands History of Catholic unmarried mothers


Functionalists believed in a theory that the nuclear family is a positive social institution. Their view point is one of conservatism, which asserts it meets the needs of a contemporary industrial society. Functionalist emphasise that the ideal family type in modern society, is that of a traditional nuclear family. Their view of the nuclear family comprises of a worker husband and stay at home wife and 2.4 children. US sociologists have developed this approach, in particular Murdock, Parsons and Goode. The functional perspective on the family identifies a number of functions families will characteristically carry out: reproduction, socialisation, nurture, family hierarchy and family emotional support.

Talcott Parson was a leading American sociologist in the 1950’s who believed that the family was structured on the stabilisation of the adult family members and the socialisation of children. Based on a series of complex social structures and roles that needed to be adhered to achieve maximum family, social and cultural gratification -The social system consists of three systems a personality system, a cultural system and a physical environment to which the individual and society must adjust. Parsons model of key systems and sub systems further developed to define four functional prerequisites – these are adaptation, to a physical environment, goal attainment, the ability to manage one self and resources to achieve its goals and obtain gratification, integration, the ability to form skills and ways to deal with differences and finally latency to achieve comparative stability. Each system consequently develops four specialist subsystems to be able to meet these mental and physical requirements. There four systems are cultural, social, personality and biological- these systems are further broken down to four subsystems, these being (in hierarchical order) the socialisation system, the institutions of social control and integration, the political system goal attainment and the economic system adaptation.

The feminist view on family is diverse, as the feminist school of thought has many layers from the liberal to the radical – each having very different perspectives’ on family and the impact of family on woman, family and society. In general all feminists have been critical of the effects of family life on women – however these views are dramatically different if not diametrically opposed. Liberal feminists reject the concept that family lives are reflections of the economic structure of society. They believe that the cultural and social aspects of male/female inequality are central to an understanding of the feminist issues.

It is fair to say that most feminists believe that the family unit oppresses women and keeps men in power. This is based on the belief that society is patriarchical (male dominated) Patriarchy is defined as the combination of ideologies, cultural practices and systems which keep men in power.

The three types of feminism – liberal, Radical and Marxist aim to challenge patriarchy in different ways: Liberal feminists believe that the family is in essence institutionalised sexism, because its supports the mainstream culture which is also sexist. They advocate change through legislation and education. Jennifer Somerville a Liberal feminist “http://soc.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/31/4/673” asserts that the Radical and Marxist feminist have failed to take in to the account the changes in society that have enabled woman to enter the work force as equals to men, nor the social changes that removed the restrictions on females, such as child care, and the running of the home have changed. Men in society today, are far more likely be involved in the care and nurturing of their respective children – and many men now enjoy the shared responsibility of caring for the child and home. The man is no longer elevated to the head of the house; as such equality in the home and family is being achieved.

The Radical Feminist Kate Millett (“Sexual Politics”, 1971 argued that “Sociology examines the status quo, calls it phenomena, and pretends to take no stand on it, thereby avoiding the necessity to comment on the invidious character of the relationship between the sex groups it studies. Yet by slow degrees of converting statistic to fact, function to prescription, bias to biology (or some other indeterminate) it comes to ratify and rationalise what has been socially enjoined or imposed into what is and ought to be. And through its pose of objectivity, it gains a special efficacy in reinforcing stereotypes…Functionalists, like other reactionaries, are out to save the family”. Radical feminists view the family and men as the enemy within, which is both insidious and damaging to woman. Radical feminists believe that patriarchy is the central starting place of division in society. Essentially men exploit women as husbands, partners, sons and brothers. This manipulative relationship is reflected in the family; in which women do all the work for the benefit of men – thus reinforcing the capitalist bourgeois ideology. Men are viewed as the enemy by radical feminists who have created a divide within the feminist ranks, as they believe that no female should be dominated or controlled, and the only way to achieve this, is to not participate in any sexual relationship with men.

Valerie Bryson (1992) who bases her feminist philosophy as Marxist, argues all radical feminists ‘see the oppression of women as the most fundamental and universal form of domination” whilst this view is polarised within radical feminist thinking, it cannot be seen as definitive or even based in the feminist combined ideology.

The Marxist feminist perspective argues that the principle source of division in society is class – therefore the exploitation of women is indispensable to the continuation of capitalism

The family produces and nurtures the next generation of workers at no cost obvious cost to the capitalists system – woman doing housework is an unpaid role, which benefits’ the capitalist, woman were also viewed as cheap labour, before the equality laws were originally implemented in Britain in 19 75 – which has gone thru many iteration’s, and the latest sexual equality act http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/corporate/pdf/equalityimpactassessment.pdf “was published in 2007.

The earliest view of the family developed from a Marxist perspective is contained in Friedrich Engels’s “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (Engels, 1972, first

Published 1884) Engels stated that:

“The monogamous bourgeois nuclear family developed to help solve the problem of the inheritance of private property – men needed to know who their children were in order to pass on their property to their heirs .The family is therefore designed to control women and protect property”

Freindrich Engles views the nuclear family as a creation of capitalism, specifically designed as patriachical, its primary purpose is to ensure and perpetuate male domination and power through the male only inheritance of land and property – It therefore served the interests of capitalism to keep woman economically and socially of less value to society than men. The Marxist feminist view the tasks carried out by woman as reaffirming male dominance – therefore house work, child care, cooking and emotional support are seen as detrimental to woman. Women also provide the sexual and emotional support to the husband or partner, in doing so the role is seen as one of submission to the hierarchy of the male head of family. Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard described the everyday situation of family as familiar exploitation – however every example could be seen as simply supportive and part of a loving relationship.

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Today’s family in contemporary Britain is made up of different family groups, cultures, ethnicity, class and economic status. There are more isolated nuclear families, which have either migrated to Britain, or moved geographically within Britain – families who will have their own norms and values, based on cultural, religious, class or economics which they will bring with them, and incorporate in to their new life. Lone parents who work, as well as mothers from the traditional nuclear families who work, as a financial necessity or a career option. Same sex parents, who now have the same marriage and parenting rights as heterosexual parents. More people live together before marriage, children born outside marriage; all of these are now norms and values socially and culturally. Family and the definition of what’s constitutes family – and who actually benefits’ from the family has not changed. We create life and then teach our children. Families provide the care and nurturing essential to the learning of who we are, and where we form, what has changed is the is open to personal need and interpretation. Essentially the choices of how family is defined are to fluid in their nature and to diverse, to be able to any other than a personal preference of how to live. Nor should government or society be so prescriptive and controlling to impose.

In reviewing the different family types, mainly all have positives and negatives however when reviewing Murdoch’s assertion that every society had a form of the nuclear family , this was incorrect, as both Nayar and Kibbutz proved that the function of family can be performed equally in a society other than the western defined confines of the nuclear family structure. Different cultures, values and norms, create variations of family and also place different importance on the family status in society. In today’s society we have many variations of family, same sex families, same sex lone parents, and same sex adoption. As such the traditional term of “family” is used incorrectly as an outdated social ideal. The world has changed and the attitudes to parenting specifically in Britain have changed. There have been several significant social developments which have brought about changes in social norms and values.

The supporters of the nuclear family believe the benefits of the nuclear family are its conservative core norms, and values which underpin the moral, wellbeing of society. They also consider anything else as a failed form of the nuclear family. The traditional roles of men as the breadwinner, and woman as the happy and fulfilled house wife, staying at home, looking after the children is the theme they most project. The Media use this image of happy family relationship, between all ages groups, every day in concepts and products, actively promoting the nuclear family as the social aspiration to happiness, success and fulfilment- the paradox is that in reality many mothers and fathers in today’s society, have no choice, because it not a financially viable option, as they would not be able to house or support their selves or their child/children with just one salary. Moreover the woman may be the chief breadwinner, and the husband would then have to embrace role reversal in the nuclear family and be a stay at home dad – there has been an increase in men staying at home to fulfil the role of house husband, however it is still predominately a female responsibility to care for or arrange alternative care, for children in the nuclear family.

The pre industrialised class and economic status had a significant effect on who lived or died – an example being if the family was wealthy a land owner, they may well have a more favourable environment in which to increase their chances of survival, although they were still affected by such diseases as the Black Death (Yesinia pestis ) which over a period of two years killed between 30-40% of the entire population of England in both 1348 and 1605. Twice as many poor children died as rich children; the poor in the country were at the mercy of poor harvests, bad weather famine and infections. Also fatalities were higher in the towns where sanitation and overcrowding in poor areas encouraged the spread of the virus. Given that the pre industrial pre-plague population of England was in the range of 5-6 million people, fatalities may well have exceeded or reached as high as 2 million. Urbanisation or isolation – neither could supply the basic needs of the poor, so it’s unlikely that any child surviving the age of sixteen had an extended family, due to the circumstances that they were born in too.

Their functionalist view of the family is ideological and unrealistic, as it does not represent a reality of ever changing family, cultural, economical and demographic factors of life and work – If nothing else the functionalist view can be seen as a plausible aspiration for some conservative idealists – it is however not a viable option for all family types. Equally from a Marxist perspective, the fact that it’s wrapped in gender and equality issues – and that the feminists have such diverse diametrically viewpoints – yet have also provided the vehicle for such positives changes in women’s rights and social equality, it has to be held up as the champion of woman, yet also recognised as having done its job. Over the last 100 years in England, woman from all classes, ethnicity and culture have gained the right to vote; in the last 50 years working class woman gained entry to university, the right to divorce, and the right to birth control. These changes have impacted society to its very core; challenging the definition of the nuclear family and the society it fits into.

Religion is slower to change its views on the Nuclear and industrial vision of the nuclear family: for instance where the Catholic Church is politically, ideologically and (possibly) economically powerful, the promotion of marriage, and the ban on contraception have significant consequences for the family, in terms of such things as: size, domestic violence, traditional male/female roles. This ensures the women are still disenfranchised and that emancipation of woman still exists in contemporary modern society. In today’s society family is a hot topic. In last 60 years, there has been significant social and cultural change. There is however multiple issues as the pace of change has not be controlled or understood before being implemented.

In conclusion it’s difficult to blithely wrap family in to one perspective, the reality is that there is no ideal family unit – and common sense, pragmatism, social, cultural and economical factors must all be taken in to consideration. The western capitalist perspective of the nuclear family, extended family, same sex family or lone parent, do not necessarily translate to other cultures or societies. Equally the views of the feminists do not agree on female equality, or the emancipation and disenfranchisement of woman in today’s society. Young girls and boys nurtured by their parents will determine the values and norms relating to their roles in latter life. Woman do have self determination in Britain today – this provides the choices necessary on how they live their lives, be that in a nuclear family, in a same sex relationship or as a lone parent. If is impossible to make a definitive choice, as what benefits to the family as a whole, is to provide equal partnership, respect for both genders and a secure loving environment- in saying that domestic violence, drugs alcohol could all present as negatives. The liberal feminist stance resonant as the most pragmatic and balanced view – whilst the radicals and Marxist feminist views are polarised in a gender war.


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