Families & Households Perspectives

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  • Created by: Sophie
  • Created on: 10-05-13 18:31

Marxist perspective on the family

  • Engels (1884) -The family developed so that men could be certain of the paternity of children, with marriage allowing them to control women's sexuality.
  • Zaretsky (1976) - sees the family as a prop to the captalist system. Unpaid domestic labour of housewives supports future generations of worker at no cost to capitalist employers. The family consumes the commodities produced by capitalist companies, helping the bourgeoisie to make profits. It provides comfort to alienated workers enabling them to carry on working.
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Criticisms of Marxism

  • Zaretsky has been criticized for exaggerating the extent to which the family can be an escape from alienating work since the family can also br characterized by cruelty, neglect and violence
  • Some familes are anti-capitalist and socialize their children into beliefs which are critical of the ruling class.
  • Feminists criticize Marxists for neglecting the exploitation of women, postmodernists criticize  them for ignoring diverse fammily types in society today.
  • Functionalists believe that marxists ignore the beneficial functions of the family for society.
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Functionalist perspective on the family

George Peter Murdock (1949) -  believed the nuclear family was a universal institution vital to the well being of all societies. He studied 250 societies and identified FOUR MAIN FUNCTIONS OF THE FAMILY:

  • Sexual - Prevents disruption to society by limiting sexuality to monogamous relationships.
  • Reproductive - The family ensures the reproduction of a new generation vital for the survival of society.
  • Economic - The family acts as an economic unit ensuring the survival of its members by providing food and shelter.
  • Educational - the family provides a stable enviroment in which children can be socialized into the culture of their society.
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Functionalist perspective on the family

Talcott Parsons (1959-1965) - studied American society and found that even though the family had lost some functions, it retained TWO BASIC AND IRREDUCIBLE FUNCTIONS:

  • Primary Socialization:The family was the only institution in which primary socialization (the first and most important stage of socialization) could take place effectively so that children would interanlize the norms and values of their society.
  • Stabilization of adult personalities: The isolated nuclear family gets little support from extended kinship networks. The stress of the competitive world of work for the husband can be counterbalanced by the warmth and security offered by the nuclear family, and within the family adults can act out the childish elements in their personalities. This helps to stabilize their personalities.
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Talcott Parsons - Changing Family Structure

Parsons believed that the structure of the family changes to fit the needs of different types of society. In pre-industrial societies the extended family was the norm. Most people worked in agriculture and the extended family worked on the land together. 

The Nuclear family of parents and children developed in industrial society where it was necessary because:

  • Industry required a geographically mobile workforce which could move to where new factories were being built. This was difficult to achieve with large extended families.
  • A socially mobile workforce is necessary. In extended families, status was largely ascribed (given by birth) with the eldest males having high status. This could cause problems if younger males had a higher achieved status because they had a better job. Nucear families without extended kin avoided this problem.
  • Parsons argued as society changes, the family loses some of its functions. In pre industrial times it carried out many functions but in industrial society specialist institutions take over some of these functions. This process is called structural differentation.
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Criticisms of Functionalism

  • Family has a unique functional role < Some societies don't have traditional families
  • Family is functional for all members < Ignores 'dark side' e.g. domestic violence, sexual abuse.
  • Family unit benefits all members < Feminists argue men benefit more than women
  • Families and society benefit from men being main breadwinners and women main carers < Feminists view this as patriarchal and sexist.
  • Dominant family type has shifted from extended to nuclear < Ignores evidence of non-dominance of extended family in the pre industrial era, and decline of nuclear family and increasing family diversity.
  • Nuclear family best adapted to modern society < Postmodernists argue there are many viable alternatives.
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Feminist View

Several different types of feminist theory, but all of them share certain characteristics in common:

  • There is a fundamental division in society between men and women
  • That women  are to some extent exploited by men
  • That society is male-dominated or patriarchal (men having more power than women).
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Feminist perspective on the family.

Radical Feminists: believe that the family plays a major role in maintaining the oppression of women in a patriarchal , male dominated society.

  • Germaine Greer (2000) argues that even in marriage today women remain subservient to their husbands. She believes that single women are generally happier than married women and this is reflected in the high number of divorces instigated by women.
  • Greer claims that wives are much more likely to sugger physical and sexual abuse than husbands, and daughters are often victims of sexual abuse by male relatives within the family.

Marxists feminists: believe that the family benefits the capitalist system and in doing so exploits women.

  • Margaret Benston  (1972) claims that wives are used to produce and rear cheap labour for employers. The childcare they provide is unpaid, and they also help to maintain their husbands as workers at no cost to employers.
  • Fran Ansley (1972) believes that wives suffer as a result of the frustration experienced by their husbands in the alienating work that they do for capitalists.
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Feminist perspective on the family.

Liberal feminists: Jennifer Somerville (2000) believes that women are still disadvantaged in families, but she criticizes radical and marxist feminists for failing to accept that progress has been made in some ways.

  • Women now have much more choice about whether to marry, whether they take paid work when married and whether they stay married.
  • There is now greater equality within marriage and greater sharing of the responsibility for paid and unpaid work and childcare.
  • Most women still value relationships with men.

However she agrees there are still inequalities within marriage that need to be tackled through pragmatic reform.

Black feminists, for example, stress the importance of racial/ethnic differences between women while other difference feminists emphasize differences in class, age or nationality. Difference feminists point out that not all women are equally exploited.

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Criticisms of radical, marxist and liberal feminis

All these perspectives have been criticized for:

  • Exaggerating the exploitation of women within the family
  • Largely failing to acknowledge the increasing equality between men and women.
  • Oversimplifying by taking little account of differences in the circumstances of different groups of women.
  • In particular, not taking account of class, ethnic and age differences.
  • Ignoring examples where men are victims of abuse in families.

Functionalists criticize them for failing to acknowledge the postitive contribution of the family to society.

Postmodernists criticize them for failing to acknowledge the extent to which society and family life have changed.

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