#33 Theories of the family

  • Created by: Mui
  • Created on: 16-04-13 18:48


  • Society is based on value consensus -> shared set of norms and values
  • Society is like a biological organism, different parts function together to maintain it 
  • The family plays a role in maintaining society, meeting the needs of other systems e.g. education
  • Murdock - nuclear family -> stabilises sex drive, reproduces the next generation, socialises the young, and reaches economic needs of each member... Hence why the nuclear family is universally accepted 
  • Parsons - functions the family performs depends on the society, he identified two
  • 3 generational extended family found in pre industrial society, which performs  the role of production and consumption...
  • 2 generational nuclear family found in industrial society, as its easier to move to where jobs are and the prevention of status conflict as sons can now achieve higher status than their parents through social mobility
  • 2 essential functions of nuclear family is primary socialisation and stabilisation of adults allowing them to work efficiently e.g. releasing stress
  • Parsons - conjugal roles are biologically based, e.g. mother gives birth so they naturally fulfil the expressive role
  • Functionalists - ignore the conflicts e.g. child abuse + Functionalists ignore family diversity and assume the nuclear family is the NORM
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New Right

  • The divison of labour within the family is natural and biologically determined
  • Nuclear family with segregated conjugal roles is the ideal enviroment to socialise children
  • Families should be self reliant, relying on the state merely leads to a dependancy culture 
  • Dependancy on the state undermines gender roles leading to breakdowns and lone parent families
  • Lone parent families -> lack of a male role model -> inadequately socialised boys -> delinquency 
  • Feminists argue gender roles in the family aren't natural (biological), but socially constructed -> due to socialisation and influence of cultures
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  • The family is an oppressive institution thats performs functions for capitalism 
  • Engels - passing private property and wealth onto sons... this resulted in monagamous marriages to ensure it was the beourgeoisie' son inheriting the wealth
  • Zaretsky - 'cult of private life' or the idea of gaining fuilfilment from the family diverts attention from economic exploitation 
  • Family provides a unit of consumption, allowing capitalists to make profits 
  • Both Marxists and Functionalists see the family shaped by a wider society
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  • Liberal feminists acknowledge gender inequalities been reduced through legislation e.g. Equal Pay Act (1970) + Sex Discrimination Act (1975)
  • March of Progress believes the 'new man' is becoming widespread
  • Marxist feminists argue capitalism is the main cause of womens oppressions BECAUSE...
  • -> they reproduce and service the next generation of labour for free
  • -> wives absorb their husbands frustration resulted from their frustration from exploitation e.g. long hours of work,
  • -> a reserve army for cheap labour e.g. at WW2 
  • THEREFORE capitalism must be destroyed simultaneously the family, as womens oppression is linked to the exploitation of the working class -> It fails to explain womens oppression prior to capitalism
  • Radical feminists argue patriarchy is the cause of women oppression because men benefit from their wives unpaid labour + dominate them through threat of domestic violence -> They belive in the abolishment of families and political lesbianism
  • Radicals however ignore importance of class and ethnic inequality -> status of white middle class woman > black working class man
  • HOWEVER, certain feminists argue not all women experiences are the same such as black women may suffer from racism so a family may be a source of support
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  • Marxism and Functionalism can generalise because they see a clear cut predictable structure and one particular family type
  • Postmodern society has 2 features
  • -> Individuals have more choice to construct their identities, society now consists of subcultures rather than one single shared culture->(Functionalists)
  • -> Rapid change means society is less predictable, new technology and media has transformed 
  • THEREFORE families are less stable, types of relationships are now individuals choices e.g. adopting children, cohabitating, gay marriage -> we simply cant generalise about family life nowadays
  • HOWEVER freedom may not always be a choice e.g. domestic violence or social class may effect choice
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This a great basic resource focusing on the function of the family. This clearly highlights the key points surrounding each of the theories. This resources can be further enhanced by identifying the key theorists as part of revision.



Such a great resource, would just recommend adding more sociologists views for each one.

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