Essay plan for Examine the contribution of functionalism to our understanding of the family

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Examine the contribution of functionalism to our understanding of the family
Family performs vital functions for society
o Functionalists argue that the family has essential functions which it must perform to meet the basic needs
of society and its members.
o Murdock argues that this makes the family a universal institution. In performing these functions the
family links up with other institutions e.g. providing future pupils for education and workers for the
economy. Four basic functions: sexual, educational, economic and reproductive.
o Parsons list of functions is shorter (basic and irreducible). He argues that the family has to provide the
primary socialisation of children ­ to ensure the maintenance of society's culture; and the stabilisation of
adult personalities ­ where responsibility for children gives emotional security and the family acts as a
haven from the difficulties of the world outside.
The reason why the family's functions can be reduced to two is because other functions can be
carried out by other specialist organisations
The nuclear family is particularly suitable for modern industrial society
o Functionalists explain change by showing how, as society develops; the family develops and changes
also, in order that it may still fulfil the needs of its members and society in general.
o Parsons sees the isolated nuclear family as the most suitable for modern society.
This is because it can be geographically and socially mobile
Parsons also differentiated between the roles and functions performed by husband and wife, assuming that
these differences are based on biological differences.
o Argues that the male performs the `instrumental` role as the breadwinner. Whereas the women
performs the `expressive` role by caring for her husband and children.
Their view is concentrated on harmony and consensus and assumes that society has one set of shared values and
norms. Marxists see the family as serving the capitalist system, producing obedient future workers for the
Their view that the family is universal however there are examples such as Kibbutzim where the family is
Feminists see the Functionalist perspective of the family as patriarchal and unequal and that women are
Postmodernists emphasise diversity in modern family life ­ unlike Functionalists who see the family as nuclear.


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