Functionalist Theory of the Family

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Functionalist Theory of the Family

Focus: The positive contributions of institutions like the family to society.

Important theorists: George Peter Murdock and Talcott Parsons


Murdock - Functions of the Family (1949):

- to possess common residence.

- to co-operate economically.

- to reproduce.

- to include adults of both sexes; at least two of whom maintaining socially approved sexual relationship.

- to include one or more child(ren), own or adopted, of sexually cohabiting adults.


Murdock - The Nuclear Family

- universal (researched 250 societies, finding this system in each one).

- regulates sexual behaviour.

- reproductive.

- encourages economic co-operation.

- educational (socialises children into key norms and values of behaviour).


Criticisms of Murdock's Arguments

- ignores the fact some people are unfaithful (have affairs).

- ignores existence of other family types (e.g. lone parent units, cohabitation etc.)

- does not consider homosexual relationships.

- society has changed since Murdock's publication.

- narrow definition (excludes alot of things usually considered families).

- findings of cross-cultural studies of living arrangements conducted by other sociologists do not fit in with Murdock's definitions.

- coming from a Westernised viewpoint; biased? [as suggested by Ann Oakley].


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