Assess the functionalist contributions to our understanding of the family

Essay that got me 23/24, could be used as a model answer.

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Thursday, 29 September 2011
Assess the functionalist contributions to our understanding
of the family
Functionalists believe that parts of society exist for a function and are all part of the
organic analogy. If these parts work together to pass on norms and values it creates a
collective conscience, hereby creating social order. From the item we can see that
Murdock saw the family as fulfilling the function of reproducing the next generation and
socialising them into the shared culture. They believe the nuclear family is the most
effective family for its function and is the most able to pass on the norms and values to
create a collective conscience for the next generation.
Murdock, a functionalist sociologist, says that the nuclear family is universal. Meaning
that he sees this unit as an social institution that must be found in some form in every
society in every culture. But interpretivists state that families are a product of culture,
they think that there are more diverse versions of the family, even in the same society.
For example cults of the western society or Israeli kibbutz. So it seems the nuclear family
is not so universal ­ but it is true that it exists in majority in most developed countries.
His second function of the family is reproduction, where the nuclear family unit is the best
form for reproduction of future productions. This is because the husband can support his
wife and their baby. Before the days of women in work, it was crucial to have a working
husband to assure a stable household for the children to brought up in. But now it seems
that many women are choosing to have a job instead of rearing children. Because of this
birth rates are falling and the family unit is not so necessary in supporting child-rearing.
Also, with the rising rates of divorce, more and more mothers find themselves bringing up
children on their own, contrary to Murdock's theories, most of these lone-parent families
produce children with a knowledge of norms and values and of the same collective
conscience.
Taken from the item, Murdock also says that the family has a crucial function of providing
a safe place where a couple can satisfy each-other's sexual needs without disrupting
social order. And that by having sex within the marriage they promote social disapproval
of incest, adultery and polygamy. Although Post-modernists argue that sex before
marriage is now the norm in society, adultery and incest are still disapproved strongly in
today's society.
Economically, Murdock thought the family was a necessary unit of food and shelter for
the individual. The item supports this by saying that `Murdock saw the family as meeting
its member's economic needs'. With husband and wife working as a team e.g the husband
earning the money for the food, the wife buying and cooking the food, it seems the unit
was very efficient in keeping their children and each-other safe from starvation or
homelessness. Recently it has become the norm for engaged couples to stay in their
parents' home as it's not economically possible to buy themselves their own
accommodation. Pahl, a post-modernist, deduces that the family is therefore a crucial
form of economic support.
Finally, Murdock states that education is an important function of the family. Where
children learn socially accepted behaviour and learn basic skills. This happens often
through the use of toys for early learning. But this is being provided more frequently via
secondary socialisation by institutions such as schools.
Parsons also thinks that the family is an important functioning unit of society. One of his
most important functions for this unit is Primary Socialisation. According to Parsons this
Kelda Leevers 12A

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Thursday, 29 September 2011
occurred during the early years of child-hood by passing on the norms and values of
society. But in today's society more and more influence is coming from the media and
peer groups. For example children's TV will promote to children things like good manners
and brushing their teeth. As the item suggests, sometimes Functionalists have a too
simplistic view of the relationship between family structure and the wider society and
therefore overlook things like secondary socialisation.…read more

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Thursday, 29 September 2011
impossible for society to be fair when families are being lured into buying the latest
gadgets or labels.
Evans and Chandler see the family as serving a function of recreation and leisure.
Whereas the children would be able to play in the back garden and play games in their
rooms. This has become more important as parents realise the risks of the outside world.…read more

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