Sociology - Families and Households



  • Family is an essential function for society and its members 
  • Family is universal and plays positive role in society 
  • Nuclear Family = good for industrial society because its small and mobile 


  • Study - 250 societies and arugued family is universal 
  • Family performs 4 functions: 
  • Sexual - provides and controls sexual access 
  • Reproductive - provides new members 
  • Economic - provide food, warmth, home etc 
  • Educational - provides socialisation 


  • Family performs 2 basic functions:
  • Primary socialisation of children 
  • Stabilisation of adult personalities 

Men = Instrumental        Women = Expressive

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Criticisms of Funtionalists

  • Family is not universal - number of alternatives 
  • Nuclear family is becoming minority in some societies 
  • Nuclear family was common in pre-industrial society 

Marxists Criticisms 

  • Ignores conflict 
  • Very conservative so defends the status quo - doesnt allow change 
  • Family fulfills the needs of the economy, rather than its members 
  • The view that the family is 'normal' is ideological 

Feminists Criticisms

  • Justifies womens oppression 
  • In other societies - men and women take differnt roles (Oakley)
  • Nuclear family produces misery and problems as well as harmony (Radical Psychiatrists)
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  • Society serves the interests of capitalism 
  • Family provides workers 
  • These workers are socialised by the family to obey and conform
  • The family acts as a safety valve (Zaretsky) 
  • By giving workers responsibility = encourages them to work 
  • Provides consumers to buy goods by economy 
  • The family acts as an 'ideological state apparatus' defending the status quo, patriarchy and role of wife


  • Society = rise in private property, men needed property so be passed to their offspring = monogamy arose, women were brought into the home under domination of men
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Criticisms of Marxists

  • Too based on modern western society 
  • Seen to be too biased and negative 
  • Presumes universal nuclear family where man works and women stays home 
  • Too deterministic, it assumes the dominance of economy 
  • Does not explain similarities in family structure in different societies 

Feminists Criticisms 

  • Sees the family as serving the interests of men, patriarchy and capitalism 
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  • See the family as serving interests of partiarchy 
  • Family life is different for women adn is a source of male control over women 
  • Feminists see previous views of the family as 'malestream' (Abbott and Wallace)

Marxist Feminists 

  • Sees women are oppressed by capitalism and patriarchy 
  • Argue that women produce and socialise new workers, producing profit for economy (Benston)
  • Women also provide a 'reserve army' - cheap, temporary workers (Bruegal)

Liberal Feminists 

  • See increasing gender equality through law and changing values 
  • Claim that power relations and division of labour within marriage = more equal,

Radical Feminists

  • Nuclear family = based and supporting male power (Firestone)
  • Socialisation of mother/housewife role is seen as a form of oppression 
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Criticisms of Feminists

  • Feminists have over estimated the extent of female inequality 
  • Women have gained more choices and family life is more diverse 
  • Focus on the negative aspects of family life 
  • Assume all families are male headed who dominate the rest

Black Feminists 

  • Other feminists fail to consider the influence of racism as well as patriarchy

New Right 

  • Claim feminists undermine traditional family values 
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  • Stresses the pluralism, diverstity and fragmentation of modern life 
  • There cannot be one dominant, most common or 'correct' type of family 
  • There can be no 'normal' or 'natural' form of family relationships or roles - nuclear family has become fragmented
  • Important aspect of postmodern family is the ability for the individual to make choices are for members to make or construct their families through intereaction 
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Criticisms of Postmodernists

  • Avoids generalisations and allows us to see the individual meanings of social life 
  • Postmodernists ideas show the possibility to greater choice rather than oppression
  • Some see postmodernism as a dead-end  


Suggests that postmodernist ideas have led to the rise of a more reflexive approach to social life

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New Right

  • Conservative policies
  • The building block of society 
  • Seperate roles by men and women = biological 
  • All other arrangements are 'deviant' and therefore a threat to society
  • Main Concern= family is under threat and breaking down. 
  • Welfare dependancy is an issue 
  • Changes in social values is an issue 
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Criticisms of New Right

  • Abbott and Wallace see New Right ideas as a form of patriarchy 
  • Labels groups like lone-parents and homosexuals as a threat to society 

Marxist Criticisms

  • Sees New Right as ideology for capitalism 
  • Argue that poverty and inequality is due to the system and way society is structured, not the individual
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