The role of the family

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  • Created by: J.E.C.
  • Created on: 03-05-14 17:40

Functionalist perspective

G.P. Murdock

Family is universal institution with a universal function. The four main functions are....

1. Sexual - rules limiting or forbidding sexual relationships outside marriage. Helps stabilise social system. Without these rules --> conflict in society

2. Economic - family is a unit of production however in the west = unit of consumption. Important contribution to wider society.

3. Reproduction - main unit for reproducing children otherwise society would cease to exist.

4. Educational - reponsible for primary socialisation - first, most important part of process

Talcott Parsons - Warm Bath Theory: 2 functions...

> Primary socialisation - learn shared social norms and values of society otherwise no consensus

> Stability

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The New Right Thinkers

Family = the cornerstone of society. Normal family - nuclear family unit (1 M, 1 F parent)

'State of family' in decline, under threat and fragmenting sinces 1980s

Causes of decline...

> Breakdown of traditional family values > Over-generous welfare state

> Influence of feminism (encouraged women to seek fulfillment outside the home / devalued marriage)

> Increased sexual permissiveness > Greater tolerance to gay / lesbian couples

Consequences of decline:

> Fragmented family does not perform its functions - inadequate socialisation

> Children under-achieve, behave anti-socially and even criminally


> Return to traditional family values (life-long marriage / live up to responsibilities of parenthood)

> Change in government policy - redirect welfare to two-parent families - penalise others

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Evaluation of the New Right perspective

> Blames victims - problems not of their own making - low wages, lack of jobs, financial support

> Value judgements - who is to say fatherless families are inferior. Should everybody fit the nuclear family mould.

> Idealised view of the past - did the 'golden age' ever exist (victorian times still had lone parenthood etc)

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Marxist perspective

The communist manifesto - "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"

Capitalism = economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Proleteriat exploited by the Bourgeoisie = class system isunequal breeds conflict in society

The family fulfills three roles...(benefit capitalism, not the family)...

> Inheritance of property: capitalist class owns means of production. Brought about patriarchal monogamous nuclear family - Men had to be sure of the paternity of their children so they are the legitimate heirs of property. Woman became 'mere instrument for the production of children'.

> Ideological functions: Justify inequality / mainatin capitalist system. Persuade people that it is fair, acceptable and unchangeable. Socialise children into the idea that hierarchy and inequality are inevitable. Power over children prepares them for capitalist employers. Haven from harsh, exploitive world of capitalism.

> Unit of consumption: 'keeping up with the Joneses' advertising impact / 'pester power' / children who lack latest must haves are stigmatised.

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Feminist Perspective

Liberal feminists - Not yet full gender equality in the family but evidence shows men doing more domestic labour and we tend to socialise daughters and sons equally - similar aspirations.

> Campaign against sex discrimination and want equal rights and opportunities > Womens oppression is being gradually overcome through changing people's attitudes & laws. > Sex discrimination Act 1975 - outlaws discrimination in employment. 

Marxist feminists - main cause of oppression of women = capitalism. > Women produce labour force > Absorb anger > 'Reserve army' of cheap labour

Radical feminists - men are the source of women's oppression. >Family and marriage are key institutions of patriarchy (unpaid domestic labour, sexual services, threat of violence). Solution is separatism / political lesbianism.

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