Functionalists Views of the Family

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  • Created by: Sarah
  • Created on: 07-02-13 16:04

Views of the Family

Functionalists take a positive view of the family, arguing that the family functions to benefit all family members (e.g. providing emotional and financial support) and society (socialises children into the norms and values of society). The family is an important ‘organ’ in society – it must perform its function, in order for society to run smoothly. See the nuclear family as ideal. The roles of men and women are based on biological differences: man performs the instrumental role (breadwinner) and the woman performs the expressive role (housewife/cares for children). These different roles complement one another. The family is the agent of primary socialisation, socialising children into the culture of society: children learn the norms and values of society.

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Argues that the family performs 4 basic functions in all societies:

  • Education (what Murdock saw as socialisation) – children learn the norms and values of society.
  •  Reproduction – giving birth to future generations, thus keeping society functioning. 
  • Sexual – married adults of the opposite sex can satisfy their sexual needs, which will prevent them from having affairs and ensure children are raised by their natural parents.
  • Economic – providing food and shelter. Economic roles of men and women should be based on the division of labour (man = breadwinner / woman = housewife, cares for the children).
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  • Murdock ignored the negative aspects of family life such as domestic violence.    
  • Failed to look at alternative family types such as lone parent families and gay families.

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Parsons researched white middle class Americans and found that the nuclear family performed two functions in all societies:

  •  Primary socialisation of children – children are taught the norms and values of society, allowing them to internalise culture and gain a strong sense of belonging to society.
  • The stabilisation of adult personalities – married couples gain emotional support, security and fulfilment from being married. Parsons claimed that adult personalities are best stabilised through marriage where couples gain emotional security and can support one another.
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  •  Parsons only researched white middle class American families, failing to consider class and ethnic differences. 
  • Focuses only on the beneficial and positive aspects of the family, failing to recognise negative experiences such as domestic violence.
  • Sees socialisation as a one-way process in which children passively internalise culture, ignoring the agency (free will) of children and that socialisation is usually a two-way interaction.
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