Theories of the family


The functionalist perspective

The organic analogy

  • Society is like a biological organism made up of different parts that function together.

The family plays a vital role in maintaining the social system and meeting the needs of other sub-systems like the economy. Families perform the vital functions for wider society and its members.

Murdock: four functions of the family

  • Stable satisfaction of the sex-drive with the same maritl partner preventing a sexual free-for-all.
  • Reproduction of the next generation without which society would not exist.
  • Socialisation of the young into society's norms, enabling new members to integrate into society.
  • Satisfaction of members' economic needs e.g. providing food and shelter. As a unit of consumption.
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The functionalist perspective cont.

Parsons' 'functional fit theory'

The range of functions that the family performs depends on the society where it is found, this determines the structure it will have. Either the three-generational or the two-generational.

The extended family is multi-functional as a unit of consumption and production.

The nuclear family allows geographical mobility aswell as social mobility.

The nuclear family is left with two irreducible functions of primary socialisation and sabilisation of adult personalities.

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The new right perspective

A conservative view based on two assumptions:

  • A biologically based division of labour - Division of labour is biologically determined, they believe the nuclear family in segregated conjugal roles is the best place to socialise children.
  • Families should be self-reliant - Reliance on state welfare leads to a dependency culture which undermines gender roles and produces lone-parent families which can cause social problems in boys who are deprived of male role models.
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The marxist perspective

Two calss sytems of the capitalists and the working class.

All institutions in a capitalist society contribute to the maintenance of exploitation. It performs several functions:

Passing on wealth through generations.

The belief that we can only gain fulfilment through family life.

The unit of consumption.

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Feminist perspectives

Liberal feminists

Gender inequality is gradually being overcome through policy changes, challenging stereotypes and changing attitudes.

Marxist perspectives

Capitalism is the main cause of womens oppression in the family as it reproduces the labour force, absorbs mens anger and is a reserve army of cheap labour.

Radical feminists

Patriarchy is the main cause of womens oppression as men benefit from the women's unpaid domestic labour and dominate women through violence.

Difference feminism

Not all women share the same experiences of oppression.

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The personal life perspective

To understand the family we must look at the meanings family members give to their relationships. This draws attention to a range of other personal relationships even if they are not conventionally defined as family.

Donor-concieved children

Nordqvists and smart's research into donor concieved children found that parents often emphasised the importance of social relationships over the genetic ones.

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