Functionalism and the family

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Functionalism and the family
Functionalism is a structural theory which means that it believes society and the way it
is organised is more important than the individuals who comprise it. Functionalists
examine the social institutions such as the economy, education, media, law, religion and
the family that make up society. Functionalists see social institutions as moulding and
shaping the individuals who belong to them.
Functionalists say that society is like the body which needs all organs to work together
to survive. The organs of society are institutions such as education, religion and the
family and need to work together which helps to create social order. Everyone needs to
be socialised into the same way of thinking such as norms, values and beliefs. This helps
to create value consensus which helps to eventually create a sense of belonging or
social solidarity.
Functionalists believe everyone has an equal chance to be successful in society. This is
named meritocracy which is the idea that everyone has an equal chance o being
successful in life as it is based on your ability, hard work and your talents.
Functionalists and the family
Functionalists believe that the family is a social institution and so must have specific
functions and purposes. The family is usually seen by functionalists as benefiting both
its members and wider society; however others view the functionalists as just viewing
the family with rose tinted glasses and ignoring the negative aspects of the institution
such as domestic violence. Society is viewed by functionalists to be made up of families
that share common values, goals and views and this is the reason why society enjoys
relative order instead of pure chaos.
Functionalsts believe the ideal family structure is the nuclear family (the stereotypical
two generation family made up of a married heterosexual couple with their dependent
offspring) and that all families in the UK should conform to this family type if their
children are to grow up to be good citizens. Functionalists believe that the family is the
most important institution in society. If the institution of the family suffers problems
society will find it difficult to function. Functionalists see any family not conforming
to the nuclear family `norm' as dysfunctional as they create the potential for social
problems such as crime and teen pregnancy.
Murdock- studied over 250 societies around the world and argued that the nuclear
family was the universal `norm'. Murdock believed the best family structure to be the
nuclear family.
Criticisms of Murdock's views on the family-
The feminist movement has allowed women to be independent and not focus on
marriage and having children but instead following a career

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The introduction of the pill in 1960 allowed women to have control over their
reproductive rights.
Murdock's view is ethnocentric as it is based on the misguided view that
western societies are superior to other cultures.
The nuclear family isn't always positive and beneficial to its members such as
domestic and child abuse.
Murdock claimed that the family has 4 functions;
Reproductive ­ this is essential for the survival of society ­ without
reproduction, society would cease to exist.…read more

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Some say Murdock's views are too conservative and that they imply that certain
types of parenting such as single parent families and homosexual families and
not as good as the classic nuclear model for bringing up children.
Talcott Parsons- the most important contributor to the functionalist theory of the
family. His research was based on modern American nuclear families in the 1950s
(Which means that now his research is now a bit out of date).…read more

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Stabilisation of the adult personality- parsons believed that the family takes away the
stress of modern day living or its adult members. This is called the warm bath theory.
Steel and Kidd-
agree with parsons
as they believe the
family provides a
warm, loving and
stable environment.
The emotional
support and security
of the family acts as
a safety valve in that
it prevents adults
from getting
stressed and strengthens social stability.…read more

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Parsons' model could be seen as outdated as it is around 60 years old.…read more

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In most societies there are variation on the two generation nuclear family with
adults of both sexes and dependent children living together.
Many people still desire to live in a nuclear family set up.
The new right
New right sociologists are associated with the conservative party who believe that
problems such as crime and social problems such as teenage pregnancy are caused by a
breakdown in traditional values and institutions.…read more


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