Assess the contribution of Functionalism to our understanding of families and households

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Daisy Casemore
Sociology As
Assess the contribution of Functionalism to our understanding of
families and households
To assess how Functionalism contributes to society's view on families and households, I will
compare the Functionalist perspective to the Marxist perspective as both have extremely
strong influences on sociology's understanding and allows us, as a society to pick and
choose what aspects we agree with and to then apply those factors to our understanding. I
will be using the theories of Murdock and Parsons as Functionalists, and Marx and Engels as
Marxists to study how functionalism affects sociology's views and understandings of
families and households.
Functionalists have very strong views on how society is like the human body, and how the
family needs to operate within this perspective by performing certain functions in specific
ways to benefit the individuals within the structure. George Murdock states that there are
four main functions of the family, these include; stable satisfaction of the sex drive,
reproduction of the next generation, socialisation of the young and meeting economic
needs. These four functions are believed to only be performed ably if the family fits the
criteria of a `Nuclear Family'- meaning that the family must be of the traditional two-parent
type, insinuating an Expressive role (women) ­ geared towards childcare and domestic work,
and an Instrumental role (men) ­ geared towards earning money and achieving success. ``I do
not believe that a single parent family can ever perform the functions needed from a
How does the idea of a Nuclear Family contribute to society's understanding? Well, without
their view of a two parent family being the only able and competent type, today's society
would not have the belief of a traditional two parent family being normal and most widely
accepted, therefore shaping our opinions on single parent families in addition to today's
norms and values.
The functional fit theory (Parsons) states that the needed functions of the family change
depending on the environmental and societal situations. For example, the use of extended
family for childcare and help was very common and widely accepted during the pre-industrial
society, however, this changed when society transformed into an industrial state, and this
meant that the Nuclear Family fit with the environmental demands, meaning that the help of
extended family was no longer needed as the government took their place as being able to
help in the same ways, therefore incurring a loss of function for the preindustrial society
family, therefore Parsons viewed that the family ­ of the Nuclear kind ­ now had only two
irreducible functions: primary socialisation of children and stabilisation of adult personalities.

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Daisy Casemore
Sociology As
However Karl Marx believed in the polar opposite to a Functionalist's view. He openly stated
that all of society's institutions ­ including the family ­ helped to maintain class inequality
and the rising problem of capitalism. Engles, a famous Marxist, said that "Monogamy is
essential due to the potential inheritance".…read more


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