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Functionalism and The Family
Functionalism is a theory which views society as being a system of interconnected parts, they compare society to
a human body.
Society is made up of Many social institutions which all need to work together in order for society to run smoothly.
Examples of some institutions:
To Functionalists, Family is the heart of society.
Family is an institution that is beneficial to society and it's members
Institutions in society are important as they help maintain social order and social cohesion.
Functionalists argue that society is based on a value consensus (common agreement) , where they share a set of
norms and values. They also allow individuals to cooperate harmoniously to meet societies needs and achieve
shared goals.
Modern Family or Nuclear family is necessary and functional because it meets the requirements of the economic
They Believe that there are `natural' male and female Roles, which `fit' each other like a button and a buttonhole, and
this is the best way for families to operate. E.g. females are naturally more nurturing than men and will naturally
extend to care for husband as well as children.
Aisha Dagali…read more

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Studies 250 societies of different cultures and the nuclear family existed
G. PETER MURDOCK in every single society he studied, therefore, he claims that the nuclear
family is universal.
He found that in each society, There are four functions which a family performs and
before industrialisation,
Sexual- sexual stable relationship between parents. preventing the social disruption
caused by sexual `free-for-all'(sexual relationship out side of marriage). families were all extended,
however, after
Education- The family is largely responsible for the primary socialisation where it industrialisation, it has
teaches children the norms and values of society. With out socialisation there will be no evolved to nuclear.
culture and without shared culture, there will be no consensus about society's norms
and values.
Reproduction- The family is a main unit of reproduction of children and they should
continue to produce members of society to keep society running. There are right and wrong ways
to organize the family and the
Economic- providing resources for each other. Food Shelter. Before industrialisation, nuclear family is the most ideal,
family was a unit of production where families produced their own goods for family
group (e.g. farming families produced food). After industrialisation (today) the family
which serves the needs of both
acts a unit of consumption (buying goods and services for the family group). Therefore, society and individual.
the economic functions make an important contribution to the wider society.
Single-parent families is a wrong way to
Marxists and Marxists feminist
organize a family. Lone parent families Young and Wilmot
argue that education serves the
are usually female headed and Murdock argue that the needs of capitalism.
argues that the women would not be nuclear family did
able to teach and provide what is exist in pre- Reproduction would create a new set
necessary to the child and this may industrial society. of workers to serve the needs of the
increase the possibility of the child being bourgeoisie making them richer.
influenced (dragged) into crime and Marxist feminist would argue that the Neglect the dark side of the
drugs. nuclear family is serving the needs of family e.g. domestic violence and
Aisha Dagali
men and oppressing women . child abuse.…read more

Slide 3

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There are two functions which the family provides:
Primary Socialisation-teaches children the norms and values of society.
Stabilisation-family gives the individual adult a `safety-value' , a place where he or she can relax.
The family acts as a escape of the Problems of everyday life, which helps people let steam off and
calm down before they enter the outside world. (Warm bath theory) Family life provides adults
with release from the strains and stresses of everyday life, it provides them with emotional
security and support Nuclear family
evolved from
Effects of Industrialisation:
Nuclear Family
Geographical Mobility (Parsons and Goodie)
Social mobility (William Goode)
Workplace and home became separated due to the New development.
Conjugal Roles
Achievement became much important than ascription (link back to education)
Family Lost its functions as its no longer provided by the family but provided by the
state (Theory of fit)
Young and Wilmot argue that there wasn't a sudden change to
nuclear family, there were 3 stages before it became nuclear
There is a division of labour as The mother and father had
important roles: Zaretsky argues that the family is servant
The man has the instrumental role-he is the breadwinner to capitalist state as it allows the man to
The women has the expressive role-she is the feel comfortable and relaxed to start
Hareven argues
homemaker, fulltime housewife and biologically suited another day of hard work under harsh
that extended
to look after the emotional and cultural development of capitalist oppression
family was best
children. equipped to meet Some families
the needs of early Ignore the fact that socialise children
industrial society, the child may resist into negative norms
Aisha Dagali
providing support and values
the socialisation…read more

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Talcott Parsons- Industrialisation (Theory of `Functional Fit')
Sociologists are interested in how far the family changed over time-especially between the changes in:
structures (Nuclear or extended) , Industrialisation (shift from agricultural to factory production) + Urbanisation (populations moving from
countryside to Towns) The family changed in shape, functions and roles of its
members to `fit' needs of society
Pre-industrial Post-industrial
People became more geographically mobile and were less
reliant on kin for economic and social support (home-
centred). They able to move away from extended kin to the
countryside in order to take advantage of the new job
opportunities, bought by industrialisation. The nuclear
family is more able to focus on socialising children into the
Societies were largely based on extended kin networks.
norms and values of the industrial society.
they commonly owned and shared land, resources and
People also became socially mobile -the ability to move or
provided mutual support.
change social classes. (Linked to Education , particularistic
and universalistic standards)
The only job at that time was farming, where it was After industrialisation, there was a new development of
agricultural and they were mainly home centred. (home and machines and factories, therefore, farming and trading
workplace were the dame thing) was no longer necessary, as they could buy food and
The extended family was responsible for the production of clothing products. The result of these processes was that
food, shelter and clothing. They often grew crops for the family became less important as an agency (act) of
themselves and took extras for trade with other family production.
groups for those things that they couldn't produce The workplace and the home became separated as people
Aisha Dagali
themselves. became wage earners in the factory system.…read more

Slide 5

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Talcott Parsons- Industrialisation continued.
The nuclear family provided the wife and husbands clear
roles. The instrumental role for the man and the
Men, women and children worked together in the farms,. expressive role for the women. (conjugal roles)
Health- Families where responsible for maintaining the The state replaced some functions of the family :
health of its members. (high IMR then, so this was a struggle Health-there are now care for the elderly and to look after
at the time) children and hospital
Welfare- the family also provided welfare for its members Education- Achievement (status and job achieved by
(old people) and in exchange, they looked after young ability) became much important than ascription (status and
children job achieved by birth) as there are now schools which
Education-roles in families were ascribed (status and job educate the children and are able to choose any career
achieved by birth) rather than achieved (status and job they like. Therefore, they no longer feel that they should
achieved by ability) . They were also responsible of teaching follow on the families trade.
the children the skills and education needed to take their He claims that structural differentiation (Defined below)
place in the family division of labour and the family trade resulted in the family becoming a more effective unit in
(members would be born into the family trade) This terms of its contribution to the economy.
extended to numeracy and literacy.
Parsons argues that in post-industrial society social institutions (such as the family) have progressively lost
many of its functions they performed in the past ( socialisation, "education", work, health etc.). they became
differentiated (`separated'), and also became more specialised in its core functions - for parsons = primary
socialisation and stabilisation of adult personalities. This Dagali
change is known as the structural Differentiation.…read more

Slide 6

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Critique of Parsons View on industrialization
Historians suggest that parsons was far to simplistic in his interpretation of the history of the family.
Laslett studied family size and composition in pre-industrial England
In pre-industrial society, only 10% of households were extended, Therefore the family structure in pre-industrial
society was mainly nuclear.
Nuclear family was popular at that time:
due to the fact that people chose to get married at a later age which leads to an early death.
It could be also due to the practice of sending children away to become servants or apprentices.
It may also be the case that industrialisation took off (finished) so quickly because nuclear families already
Criticized as unreliable because statistic do not give us any real insight into the quality of family life. i.e. (that is) the
meaning that they attach to the family life. E.g. people may have lived in nuclear units but might have seen or spent
quality time with other relatives on a daily basis.
Michael Anderson- Historian
Studied the town of Preston Using 1851 census data.
From his study He found that 23% of households contained kin other than the nuclear family.
Anderson provides evidence that rather than weakening kinship ties, industrialisation have strengthened them.
Anderson found a large number of house-holds shared by extended kin in post-industrial.
Anderson argues that during industrialisation people needed support and help and extended families provided that,
especially in towns in which unemployment and poverty were common.
Aisha Dagali…read more

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