The family has been assumed by many sociologists as a basic unit of socialisation, which plays key function, such as socialising children. The functionalist view the family as a positive institution that has positive function, while feminists sees the family as negative and reproduces patriarchy. Marxism believes the family reproduce labour force while interactionists view families as different and unique.
Functionalists focus on nuclear family and see the latter as the basic building block of family socialisation. They believe that the family is a positive and beneficial institution in which family members receive nurturing and care. They look at the family on a macro scale. Functionalist believe that society is based on consensus, this means we are all socialised to agree on how to behave known as norms, and what is right and wrong known as values. For example when there is no crime, society benefits by maintaining social order .They believe that each part of society has a function to make sure that society runs smoothly and everything stays in harmony, for example, the family’s function is to socialise children and, education has a function to make sure that people are educated to be good at the job they will get after school. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)
Murdock (1949) studied 250 different societies and concluded that the family is so functional to society, that it is unavoidable and universal that neither the individual nor society could survive without it. He argued that every nuclear family has these four essential functions without which society could not continue: sexual, reproductive, economic and education. Without sexual and reproductive, no member of society would be there. Life would stop if there was no economic function that is family providing for its members, and without education, socialisation would not be there hence absence of culture. Murdock has been criticised for not considering whether the functions of the family could be performed by other social institutions and he does not examine alternatives to the family. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)
Parsons (1955) studied the modern American family in the 50s. He argued that there are two basic and irreducible functions of the family. The first is the primary socialisation of children, which Parsons sees as a responsibility of the family to shape the child’s personality to suite to the needs of society. The second function is the stabilisation of adult personalities. The adults gets emotional support from family necessary to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Parsons, as with Murdock, has been criticised for showing the picture of the family as attuned children and compassionate spouses caring for each other’s needs. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002).
There is a natural division of labour within the nuclear family, roles are segregated positively and everyone carry out different roles, for example the instrumental male, whose role is to provide for the family and thus the bread winner, and expressive female whose role is to provide warmth, love and care for children at home. Based on Biology the woman is the child bearer therefore has to look after the child. This role maintains social stability. Family patterns have changed with time such as cohabitation, rise of reconstituted families and increase in single or lone parent in western family life. Which has even made divorce easier to obtain.
Functionalist theory has been criticised to have concentrated on the family being positive and gives little attention to its weaknesses, while in feminism the nuclear family is oppressive to women due to gender distinctions in domestic duties. Functionalists argue that the family is of equal profit to everyone, however marxists argue that society was developed by the need of the capitalist economy. It is the bourgeoisie who benefits not the whole society. Functionalists focus too much on the significance that the family has in society and disregard the sense family life has for individual. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)
Radical psychiatric argue against functionalism for ignoring the negative aspect of the family like domestic violence. Functionalists also ignore different types of families by focussing mainly on nuclear family. Interactionist David Clark (1991) identified four types of marriage arguing against functionalist, saying not all families are the same. Functionalists depict everything as positive in the family while radical psychiatric looks at the negative side of the family.
Feminism is a conflict theory that sees the family as patriarchal. They believe that men gain more in a family than women. They view the family on a macro scale. Feminists shows how men dominate social relationships, thus symmetrical conjugal roles is seen as an allegory. Feminists argue that men oppress women through domestic violence, the economic involvement to society made by women’s domestic labour within the family.
Liberal feminist Wollstonecraft (1792) wanted equality for women in terms of rights, liberties and vote by the change of law and policy. A radical feminist like Millett (1970) argues that the organisation of society enables men to dominate women. They believed that gender distinctions are politically and socially constructed therefore wanted radical reforms and social change. Kate Millet invented the term “The personal is political” meaning everything in society is political. Radical feminists think not just patriarchal men that benefit from family but all men. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)
Marxists feminist believe that the destruction of the capitalist society brings equality to everything. Lesbian feminists believe society forces women into heterosexuality so that men can oppress them. They challenge heterosexuality as a means of male supremacy. Humanist feminists argue that society only allows men to self-develop not women, and that society distorts women’s human potential.
Marxist feminist Bentson (1972) argues that family responsibilities make male workers less likely to withdraw from labour, with wife and children to support. Ansley (1972) sees the emotional support in family, stabilises male workers thus making them less likely to take their frustration out on the system. Feeley (1972) sees the family as a dictatorial unit dominated by the husband. The family values teach obedience, children learn to accept hierarchy and their position in it. Greer (2000) is a radical feminist who believes that family life continues to disadvantage and oppress women. She points out Britain has very high divorce rate thus less stability in families. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)
Marxist feminist, like functionalist tend to ignore the diversity of modern family life, assuming everyone lives in heterosexual nuclear family. They paint a very negative picture of family life possibly exaggerated. Functionalists see male and female roles being different but equal, Marxist feminists believe that men dominate family relationships. Feminist theory discards functionalist view, that society as a whole is benefited by socialisation in the family but rather men benefits more. Women are portrayed as passive victims of exploitation. It does not take into account women who abuse men by fighting back. Functionalists believe that norms and values benefits society while for feminist they benefit men more. Feminists focus on nuclear family only and the negative aspect of it.
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Marxism view family on a macro scale. The Marxist perspective is a conflict theory, which sees socialisation process of the family, results in the spread of a ruling class philosophy. Whereby individuals are deceived into accepting the capitalist system and the supremacy of the capitalist class thus hegemony.Bourgoisie benefits by creating a labour force and proletariat continue to be exploited. Engel (1972) argued that bourgeois nuclear family is an institution which oppresses women. They were seen mainly as children bearers, economically dependent to their husbands and remain faithful to them. According to Engels the family is designed to control women and protect property, thus men needed to know their children in order to pass on their property. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)
Marxists say the family serves capitalism in four ways. The family acts as a safety valve for the stress and frustration of working class men, the family plays as a unit of consumption, purchases the goods and services provided by capitalism. Women domestic work is unpaid which benefits capitalism and lastly the family socialises children thereby reproducing both labour power and acceptance of capitalism false consciousness. Zaretsky (1976) analysed that the family is one place where male workers can feel they have power and control. This helps them accept their oppression in wider society. Furthermore Zaretsky sees the family as a main prop to the capitalist economy. Marxists view of divorce in families is seen by increased economic pressure from unemployment, this may place added strain. Family members living longer could increase pressure on relationships. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)
Marxists decline the functionalist view that society is based on value consensus, and thus benefits all. Instead they see the welfare of powerful groups influencing the way society is controlled. Marxists view ignores family diversity. It sees the nuclear family as being simply determined by the economy. This theory reproduces conflict between classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, while a functionalist family operates as united, everything benefits society. Capitalist system is dominated both economically by rich at the expense of the poor, but seen as a fair system by functionalists that works together in the interest of all members causing limited conflict in society. Anthropologists have suggested that the emergence of the nuclear family did not actually coincide with emergence of capitalism. Somerville (2000) argues that Zaretsky exaggerates the importance of the family as a protection from life in capitalist society. Contrary to functionalist marxists focus on the negative aspect of the family and ignores the positive function. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)
Interactionism also known as interpretive humans are seen as symbolic creatures, meaning we define what is around us through signs and language. They study families on a micro scale instead of generalising the whole population. They also look at what family life is actually like, rather than how it should be or how it is assumed to be.Interactionists view families as different and unique thus there is no one way of family life, like other perspectives would suggest. The way a family behaves and interacts is based on interpretation of meanings and roles. We are products of our culture what we take as common sense or reality varies according to the culture we live in. (Taylor and Richardson et al, 2002)
Goffman (1969) compares life to drama, we are actors who take on roles and act them out as public performances. Each role has its own script which tells us how to act and what cues to expect from other members involved in our interaction. Bauman (1990) argues that roles and relationships learnt in the family are essential to shaping our future. Not all families are close and warm family metaphors are often used to represent closeness, for example using the term brother and sister amongst members of political organisations. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)
Berger and Kellner (1964) looked at socially constructed roles in a marriage, argues that the reality of marriage is an ongoing construction which needs to be reaffirmed, negotiated and renegotiated. Clark (1991) conducted a study of how couples constructed a meaningful marriage. He identified four types of marriage. Drifting marriages, where meanings and ideas of the future are unclear, surfacing marriages often made up of people who have been married before, establishing marriages which newly wed couple plan for long term future, and lastly struggling marriages, with financial problems often from unemployment, which causes tension and anxiety. The conjugal roles in interactionism show that the roles of husband and wife are constantly evolving. For example both husband and wife working and sharing domestic tasks. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)
Interactionist view families on a micro scale, discovering how individuals make family life based on interactions with each other. They are not interested in generalisations about family life but seek to understand how families are unique. They go further than the common sense view of families that functionalism believes in and look at the meanings of what family life is actually like. Unlike functionalism, Marxism and feminism, where there is a set function of the family, interactionism is different for there is no one set function of the family. Families can differ based on their interactions, meanings, roles and culture. The discovery of four different types of marriage offers an opposing argument to functionalism, not an ideal nuclear family. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008)
It has been criticised while concentrating on meanings, motives and action it ignores the wider structures in which families operate and are shaped. Sometimes generalisations of families are useful as they allow the development of political social policy. Interpretive approaches try to comprehend the family from the perspective of its members.
This research has shown from different sociologist and approaches that the family life has evolved as modernity is progressing. The changes involved have made the family better suited to meeting the needs of society, and of family members. Theoretical approaches to the family, such as difference feminism and postmodernism, have emphasized the variety of family types and living arrangements that exist in contemporary society.
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