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The functionalist Perspective (consensus)
Background: Society based on value consensus, enabling them to meet society's needs & achieve shared
objectives. Organic analogy used because it's a system made up of sub-systems that all depend on each other, as
society depends on primary and secondary agents.
Murdock (1949) says nuclear family is universal institution with universal functions, and no other agent will
perform these vital functions. The functions are to:
Stable satisfaction of the sex drive by preventing social disruption caused by sexual `free-for-all'.
Reproduction of the next generation without which society could not continue,
Socialisation of the young into societies shared norms and values.
Meeting members economic needs such as food and shelter.
Parson's Functional fit theory (1955) looks at nuclear family in modern society. Says family has been
increasingly specialised because functions which families were responsible for in pre-industrial societies (caring
for elderly) have been taken over by specialised institutions such as social services. However still performs two
Primary socialisation of children - Every individual must learn the shared norms and values of society, and
without this there would be no consensus, so social life would be impossible.
Stabilisation of adult personalities Unstable personalities affect the smooth running of society. Families help
stabilise adult behaviour in two ways. First, partners provide emotional support. Second, parents indulge in childish
side when playing with children. It provides adult releases from strains of everyday life. This is known as the warm
bath theory. For this industrial society to function it needs:
A geographically mobile workforce in pre-industrial society, people spent life in 1 place, working in same
village however modern society requires people to move to where jobs are and nuclear family is more fitted to this.
A socially mobile workforce essential that most talented are in most important jobs, no matter what their
background. In modern society status is achieved by own efforts rather than being given to them at birth therefore
he argues that nuclear family is better fitted form their own nuclear family, avoiding conflict.…read more
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Marxist Perspective (conflict)
Background: Marx was influenced by Hegel, who said when ideas conflict, they bring new ideas
(dialectics). He said its systems surrounding us which determine ideas, not ideas influencing system.
Capitalist society based on unequal conflict between two social classes:
Bourgeoisie - Capitalist class (means of production).
Proletariat - Working class (labour exploited by Bourgeoisie).
Marxists see all institutions as maintaining class inequality & a state of false class consciousness, so
therefore family is benefitting capitalist system. The functions family perform are:
1)Inheritance of property: The key factor in determining shape of society's institutions, is mode of
production (who owns society's productive forces) and as this evolves, so does family. They call earliest
classless society `primitive communism', where there was no private property + all members owned means
of production communally, so there was no family but `promiscuous hordes/tribes' existed, where there
was no sexual restriction. However this developed and wealth increased, which gradually brought
`monogamous nuclear family' which was essential for private property making women subject to control,
They argue the only way to stop this is to overthrow patriarchal control.
2)Ideological functions: Promotes inequality and capitalism through ideologies (ideas that justify
inequality & maintain capitalist system by making people accept its fair) through primary socialization of
children, making them accept hierarchy and inequality are unchangeable. Eli Zaretsky's says family
performs ideological function by offering haven from exploitive capitalist world where workers can be
themselves + have private life but it's an illusion.
3)Unit of consumption: Believe capitalism exploits workers + family so play major role in generating
profits as it's a key market : Advertisers use media + other ways to encourage families and children
(`pester power') to buy latest products. Society also emphasises importance of having latest + greatest
goods & people. Marxists see family in negative light, as they maintain capitalist society&don't benefit it.…read more
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Feminist Perspective (conflict)
1)Liberal: Concerned with campaigning against sex discrimination + equal rights. Argue
women's oppression is gradually being overcome due to changes in law such as Sex
Discrimination Act (1975) and in terms of family women are moving towards greater
inequality, and it's a `march of progress' view with men doing more domestic work than
they used to. Criticized for failing to challenge underlying cause of women's oppression.
2)Marxist: Main cause of women's oppression is capitalism and exploitation of working
class, not men. Women reproduce labour force, absorb anger from husbands about capitalist
society (takers of shit), and they're a reserve army of cheap labour. Family must be
abolished at the same time as a social revolution to replace capitalism with classless society.
3)Radical: Societies have been founded on patriarchy and the key division in society is
genders, men being the enemy, and family and marriage being the key institutions in a
patriarchal society, with men benefitting from women's unpaid labour + sexual services. The
patriarchal system needs to be overturned, through separatism (women living independently
of men). Many argue for `political lesbianism' as it would avoid sleeping with the enemy.
Criticized for failing to recognize how much women's positions have changed.
4)Difference: Can't generalise women to live in conventional nuclear families and all have
the same experiences, as lesbian or black or middle class or working class will all experience
different things. Criticized for ignoring the shared experiences including low pay, domestic
violence etc.…read more
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They assume family life without arguments, but ideas don't reflect real life.
Ignore `dark side' of family life, and give insufficient attention to dysfunctions of family.
Little reference to single parent families/cohabitations, don't pay attention to diversity.
Criticized as sexist because wife should be distressing husband, + wife gets easy job.
Murdock's theory is criticised because some people argue these functions could be
performed equally effectively by other institutions. Other sociologists say it's a `rose tinted
approach' which assumes a consensus in society, neglecting conflict and exploitation.
Parsons theory is criticised because people question if the extended family was dominant
in pre industrial society, along with the query that maybe the nuclear family didn't start in
the early industrial society. Lastly people question the idea that the extended family is no
Marxists ignore the fact that society is not longer `nuclear family' dominated
Feminist argue too much inequality and not focusing on gender inequality. Family serves
needs of the men and exploits women
Marxists ignore the vital benefits of the family to its members such as support and help.
They assume traditional nuclear family is dominant type, ignoring increasing diversity.
They're all structural theories (assume family members are passive puppets manipulated
by societies structure), ignoring free will and choice in actions.…read more
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Domestic division of labour
Domestic division of labour Roles men & women play in relation to housework.
Parson: In the traditional nuclear family, the roles were segregated with men performing the
instrumental role (provides finically, as the bread winner) and women performing the expressive
role (primary socialisation and home-maker, meeting families emotional needs). Argues this
division is based on biological differences making one sex more naturally suited to one job, than
other. Criticised by feminists who say only benefits men and not natural.
Elizabeth Bott: distinguishes between segregated conjugal roles (couples have separate roles, but
enjoy leisure together) and joint conjugal roles (couples share tasks and spend leisure together).
Young & Willmott (1973): take `march of progress' view, and see family as becoming more
equal, with long-term trend away from segregated conjugal roles, towards joint ones, forming
symmetrical family (roles of husband & wife aren'y identical, but similar, with women working,
men helping with housework and spending time together). It's more common amongst younger
couples, more socially & geographically isolated, and affluent. This is result of major social
changes including changes in women's positions, geographical mobility, new technology (labour
saving devices) and higher standards of living.
Ann Oakley (1974): reject march of progress view and say little has changed stemming from the
fact society is male-dominated. She argues although men help, they help with the easy tasks, and in
her own research found only 15% had high level of participation in housework, and only 25% in
childcare, arguing Young & Willmott exaggerate men's role. She says industrialisation in the 19th
century led to separation of paid work in the home, gradually excluding them from the workplace,
enforcing women's subordinate dependence on men, constructing the housewife role.…read more