Assess the Contribution of Functionalism to our understanding of Families and House holds
Functionalists see society as a system made up of different parts that all depend on each other, so the family meets all of societies essential needs; such as the need to socialise children. Functionalists see the family as a basic building block for society.
Functionalism believes that the nuclear family supports society because it is geographically mobile. Functionalism believes that the nuclear family ‘fits’ and supports society because it is geographically mobile and allows people to move around the country to find work with little disruption. This suits our current economy and also suited it in the past such as during the Industrial Revolution.
Murdock felt there should be stable satisfaction of sex drive. Meaning it should be with one partner, preventing social disruption and confusion caused by having sex with different people. Furthermore, Murdock believed society would not continue without reproduction of the next generation. Finally Murdock thought meeting its member’s economic needs was crucial, such as food and shelter.
Murdock strongly felt that nuclear structures could perform these functions, although other sociologists agreed that most of these are important functions, they argued that they could be performed by other institutions, none nuclear families.
I remember having a carefree and joyful childhood among several uncles, aunts, grand parents and parents. I remember the playful times that lasted for days at a stretch with my cousins. There was always one of the several older cousins ready to help me with my studies and the homework. Dinner time was a noisy and delightful occasion where a big group of us would enjoy anything being served. Bed ...
Parsons believed in the ‘functional fit theory’. Parsons felt that apart from the functions identifies by Murdock, the family has to meet other needs too. Parsons view was the functions it performed were depended on the kind of society in which it was found. Furthermore, Parsons felt the functions that the family has to perform affected its shape or structure. Parsons distinguished between 2 kinds of family structure; the nuclear family and the extended family.
According to parsons, there are two basic types of society; modern industrial society and pre industrial society. He felt the nuclear family fitted better the needs of an industrial society, whilst the extended family fits the needs of a pre industrial society.
Both Parsons and Murdock believed that for a family to perform Socialization adequately there needs to be a male and a female role model. They both felt that Men performed the instrumental role and provided for a family whilst women performed the expressive role and provided comfort and emotional support to the family. They also believed that marriage was a necessary institution for both a stable household and increased the chances of the family staying nuclear.
To criticise Parsons View, Ronald Fletcher, pointed out that families are multifunctional. Families regulate sexual behaviour; provide a responsible basis for rearing children, socialising children and caring for the dependents. Parsons stated many of these functions are available outside the family, but many families still do them. So they carry out non-essential as well as essential functions. Fletcher sees three essential functions of the family in giving a stable environment for sexual needs and activity, producing and carefully raising children, and providing a satisfactory home. Non-essential functions include those of government, economy, education, health, religion and recreation carried out in part in the family.
Functionalists think that the nuclear family that best performs these functions and therefore supports society is the nuclear family. However, this is a very traditional approach and can be outdated and criticized by other theories.
Susan Lieberman, a Ph.D. psychologist, once said, “Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” It is true, that families indeed play an important role in the future of a child. Families nurture a child, and mould him or her into who they become in the future. Families are the support and ...
Functionalism does not consider family diversity, probably because its basis was created when other, less traditional family types were less common. In the requirement that there be both a male and female role model for satisfactory socialization, Functionalism has restricted the family types it acknowledges as good. This excludes single parent families and same sex families.
Also, the idea of two ‘roles’ confines women and men to rigid gender roles, the carer and the provider. This is no longer the case with most families being dual earner families. This makes Functionalist theory slightly outdated.
Feminists see the family as serving the needs of men and oppressing women. Which clearly opposes the functionalist view as, if the family is built around men’s needs this can cause fights and arguments which can lead to separation or divorce resulting in single parent families, which ruins the functionalist view of the ‘ideal nuclear family’.
One of the strongest criticisms of Functionalism, making it less useful to our understanding of the family, is the way that it ignores the ‘dark side’ of family life such as Domestic Violence. It shows the family in only a positive light.
Overall, I think that Functionalism is useful to our understanding of the family in history, but not as useful in today’s society because of the narrow view it holds. Despite this, by comparing it with other theories we can learn much about present day society and the role of the family within it.