Theoretical Perspectives on the Family


  • Functionalist
  • Marxist
  • Feminist
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  • Created by: rachel
  • Created on: 04-12-08 21:31


Funstionalits always ask about the purpose or function of an institutiion.

They are interested in positive function of the family.

Two Key functionalist writers on the family are George Peter Murdock and Talcott Parsons.

Murdock (1949) argues that all families fulfil four vital functions..

  • Sexual - married adults enjoy a healthy sex life which prevents them having affairs and ensures children are raised by their natural parents.
  • Reproductive - Making the next generation.
  • Economic - By this Murdock means providing food and shelter. Ideally the man will go out and work and the woman will look after the house and children.
  • Education - By this murdock means socialisation.
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Talcott Parsons (1959). He argues the family has two key functions.

  • Primary Socialisation
  • Stabilisation of the adult personality. The family is warm, friendly place where adults can relax. sometimes called the 'warm bath' theory of the family.

Functionalists favour the nuclear family. Children are provided with a male and female role and socialisation from two parents. Functionalists do not like single parent or gay families.

Functioanlists prefer marriage to co-habitation as it is seen as more stable, and dislke divorce.

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Feminism is a movement that argues women suffer injustices in society because of their gender. They believe women need to fight for their rights and free themselves from Patriarchy. When looking at the family most feminists take a critical view, and sees the family as an institution that benefits men more than women and children. There are different types of feminism, the most important ones being Liberal, Radical, Marxist and Black.

Liberal Feminism

They tend to have an optimistic view on the family. They focus on increased equality thats exists between men and women, and the fact many couples see thier relationship as an equal partnership. They look at the emergence of the 'new man', a man who will take active role in housework and childcare and in touch with his 'feminine side'.

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Marxist Feminism

Also look at the family in a negative and critical way. Argue main cause of women's oppression is not patriarchy but capitalism - the economic system that exsists in most countries of the world. Under capitalism those who own factories, businesses and offices - the capitalists or upper class - exploit those who have to work for them - the working class. Women serve capitalism in these ways...

  • Margaret Benston (1972) argued that women are 'the slaves of wage slaves' (men are the wage slaves). Women satisfy their physical, emotional and sexual needs and 'service' men.
  • When men have a bad day at work, they take out their anger, frutration or aggression on their wives and children. Fran Ansley (1972) agrues women are 'takers of ****'.
  • Women give birth to the next geneartion of workers.
  • Women are used in the job market at 'reserve army of labour' - useful when their are plenty of jobs to fill, but when there isn't they are 'sent back' to be housewives.
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Radical Feminism

Tend to look at the family in a more critical and negative way than liberal feminists. They argue men benefit more from family life than women. In concluded research into housework and childcare, and argue men do very little compared to women. They often see family as a type of prison for women, and argue men use violence towards women to get their own way. They support family diversity, especially single-parent and gay families, and disagree with functionalists and new right that the nuclear family is always the best family type. They are supportive of divorce because they argue it allows women to escape marriage.

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