Theories of the Family

  • Created by: ash8642
  • Created on: 25-04-19 16:34


  • Society developed naturarally into hierarchy
  • Society is meritocratic
  • Society needs to meet certain functional prerequisites
  • Society is a body, and social institutions are its organs
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Murdock's Four Functions

  • Teaching sexuality/gender roles
    • Express in socially approved context
    • Heterosexuality is the norm
    • Men and women bahve 'properly'
  • Reproduction
    • Ensure reproduction
    • Stable environment to rear children
  • Primary Socialisation
    • Learn value consensus
    • Learn collective conscience
    • Provide primary socialisation
  • Economic Security
    • Provide shelter/food/other materials
    • Self-supporting + responsible for itself
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Parson's Two Functions

  • Primary Socialisation
    • Same as Murdock
  • Stabilisation of Human Personalities
    • Industrial society causes stress
    • Stress can destabilise
    • Leads to sexual division of labour + warm bath theory
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Parson's Functional Fit Theory

  • Nuclear family is functional fit in industrial societies
  • Geographically mobile - can move where there is work
  • Socially mobile - develop new skills and positions
    • Farmer's son can become a lawyer or doctor
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Criticisms of Functionalism

  • "Rosy" picture of the family
  • Old-fashioned
  • Ignore suppressive/destructive sides to the family
  • Marxist Critique
    • Family serves interest of bourgeoisie
    • Reproduces to be exploited + consumers
    • Socialises to accept inequality
  • Feminist Critique
    • Oppressive to women
    • Only benefitting capitalism
    • Never have equality if sexes live together
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  • Society is divided
  • Bourgeoisie stay in power by exploiting proletariat
  • Social institutions are used to strengthen position
  • Exploitation creates class conflict
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Class Consciousness

  • Dominant ideology - ruling/dominant ideas in society
  • Social institutions enforce dominant ideology
  • False class consciousness - proletariat lack awareness of 'true' position


  • Working class must submit to dominant ideology for Capitalism to survive
  • Family is the main method of passing on ideology
  • Ideological State Apparatus - mental control
  • Repressive State Apparatus - physical control
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Marxist Functions of the Family

  • Unit of Consumption - consume goods of Capitalism
  • Unit of Production - produce goods of Capitalism
  • Provide emotional support - Zaretski's 'Safe Haven' stops revolts
  • Primary Socialisation - socialises children into inequality of Capitalism (FCC)
    • Age Patriarchy
  • Reproduction of Inequality - reproduce labour force + heirs for inheritance of wealth, titles, etc
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Friedrich Engels

  • There was no family during class-less society
  • Monogamy is essential due to inheritance
  • Monogamy represents 'world historical defeat of the female sex'
    • Controlled and mere instruments of reproduction

Eli Zaretski

  • Family performs the function of a "haven"
    • Protects against exploitation
  • Agrues "haven" is an illusion
    • Based on a domestic servitude of women
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Criticisms of Marxism

  • Functionalist Critique
    • Doesn't believe Capitalism is unfair
    • Society is meritocratic so anyone can have status
  • Feminist Critique
    • Family serves the interest of men
  • Postmodernist/Interpretivist Critique
    • Reductionist theory/idea
    • Ignores family diversity
  • General Critique
    • Fails to explain how family flourishes in non-Capitalist societies
    • Old-fashioned - women don't need financial support/more marrying for love
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New Right

  • Similar to Functionalism - more political
  • Reaction to changes in the 1960s + 1970s
  • Want a return to traditional values
  • Modernists - society is fixed and predictable
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New Right

Best Family Type

  • Traditional nuclear family - male breadwinner + female expressive
  • Definite divide between roles - seen as natural
  • Conerstone of society - source of refuge and harmony

Family Diversity

  • See it as cause of social problems
    • Increased crime rates , educational failure, dependence on welfare benefits
  • Oppose new familiy forms
    • Single-Parent families
      • Unnatural and harmful
      • Parent married and dependent on the state
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New Right

Attack Feminists

  • Woman's first priority = caring for their family
  • Marriage is essential basis for rearing children
  • 3000 out of 15,000 mothers become lone parents during their child's first 3 years
  • Marriage holds a family together
    • Push for married families

New Right Evidence

  • Dennis + Erdos
    • Families without fathers are not adequate alternatives
    • Families are not changing, but deteriorating
  • Amato
    • "Broken" families run greater risks
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  • Critical view
  • Opresses women - inequality is constructed
  • Unequal division of labour
  • Domestic violence against women
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Radical Feminism

  • Society seen as fundamentally patriarchal
  • 'Women's oppression as women is more fundamental than other forms of human oppression'
  • Women are systematically dominated/oppressed
  • See the family as important in maintaining male power


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Germaine Greer

  • Argues ideology of wife being the most important role
    • Always at his side, seen to adore him
    • Seen as unequal
  • Inequalities soon appear
    • Make him happy
    • By marrying her, he feels he has done all necessary to make her happy
  • Wife's duty to keep him interested in sex
    • No realistic chance as wives are not seen as ****
  • No value is attached to motherhood
    • Expected to regain figure as soon as possible afterwards
  • Evidence suggests daughters are likely to experience sexual abuse from male relatives
    • Youth itself is a turn-on
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Liberal Feminism

  • Campaign against sexual discrimination and inequality
  • Gradual change through change in laws/attitudes
  • Change needed in attitudes + socialisation patterns of both sexes

March of Progress

  • View of things getting better
  • Gradual progress
  • Men doing more domestic labour
  • Socialisation of children is more equal
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Jennifer Somerville

  • Proposals involve modest reforms
  • Many have failed to acknowledge progress
  • Greater equality but men do not take full share of responsibilty
  • Principled Pragmatism - policies to increase equality in relationships
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Marxist Feminism

  • Reproduce workforce/heirs
    • Unpaid domestic labour
    • Socialise next generation to accept inequality
  • "Reserve army" of cheap labour
    • Used when "real workers" unavailable
    • Go back to domestic labour afterwards
  • Absorb anger
    • That would otherwise be directed at Capitalism
    • 'Women are the takers of ****' - Ansley
    • Explains domestic violence
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Key Thinkers

  • Fran Ansley
    • Translates Parson's stabilisation function
    • Frustrations are absorbed by comforting wife
  • David Copper
    • Family is 'ideological conditioning device in an exploitative society'
    • Lays foundation for obedient and submissive workforce
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Black Feminism

  • Other sub-sections neglect Black racial oppression
  • See the family as positive
    • Source of support and resistance against racism
    • Particularly in diasporas of matrifocal families

Postmodernist/Difference Feminism

  • Still experience greater risk of sexual/domestic violence + low pay
  • Difference feminism emerged in the 1980s
  • Every woman has a different experience of the family
    • Intersectionality
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Criticisms of Feminism

  • Most assume traditional nuclear family is dominant
  • Assumes that the family and its members are passive puppets, manipulated by structures
  • Structural theories ignore that we have choices
  • Interpretivist/Postmodern Critique
    • Issues with 'the family' - each family is different
    • Argue children are seen as passive/mere product of socialisation
    • Families are too diverse to be viewed collectively
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Postmodernism + Family Diversity

  • Life was once predictable
  • Things were well structured
  • Everyone had a clear identity
  • Hard a firm belief about the nature of things


  • Neo-conventional family
    • Characterised by dual-earning partners
  • Functionalist
    • Agrees with the shift towards family diversity
    • Most people will still live in a nuclear family
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Postmodernism + Family Diversity

Chester's Five Patterns

  • Most families headed by married couples
  • Most adults still marry and have children; most children raised by two neutral parents
  • Most marriages last until dealth; divorce rate has risen but most remarry
  • Cohabitation increased, but mostly temporary phase until marriage
  • Births out of wedlock has risen but most are joint-registering - bring up child as a couple
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Postmodernism + Family Diversity


  • Disagree with Chester
  • Families adapted to 'pluralist' society
    • Represents greater freedom of choice
    • Acceptance of cultural differences

Rapoport's Types of Diversity

  • Organisational - how roles are organised
  • Cultural - structured to cultural influence
  • Social class - difference according to income disparity
  • Life stage - where you are in life
  • Generational - older/younger have different views on family life and structure
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Postmodernism + Family Diversity

Life-Course Analysis

  • Meaning that individual family members give to their relationships + choices they make
  • From viewpoint of people involved
  • Suitable for studying postmodern families
  • Example:
    • Born into a nuclear family
    • Abandoned - fostered
    • Adopted by gay couple
    • Elope with sweetheart - cohabit
    • Marry sweetheart and have children
    • Divorce - single-parent
    • Remarry and have a child - reconstituted
    • Children leave home - empty nest
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Postmodernism + Family Diversity

Anthony Giddens

  • Increasing equality between genders
  • Same-sex couples are the pioneers of diversity
  • Marriage is no longer shouded by tradition
  • Relationships are now less stable


  • Now live in a 'risk society'
  • Can choose who to marry
  • Now have a 'negotiated family'
    • Leading to 'zombie family'
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Postmodernism + Family Diversity

Judith Stacey

  • Women are main agents for change
  • Reject traditional gender roles
  • Divorce-extended family - illustrates magnitude of diversity

Jeffery Weeks

  • Long-term shift in attitudes since 1950s
  • Sexual morality become personal choice
  • However, family practices still traditional
  • Sees New Right as fighting a losing battle
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Personal-Life Perspective

  • Argues other perspectives have 2 weaknesses
    • All assume traditional nuclear family is dominant
    • All structural theories
  • Influenced by interactionalist view
  • To understand, most start from the point of view of the individuals concerned and the meanings they give


  • Sees how people themselves construct/define relationships as "family"
  • Accused of taking too broad of a view
  • Sees intimate relationships as performing important functions
  • Recognises relatedness is not always positive
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