Assess the usefulness of the functionalist view of the family. (24 marks)
Functionalists believe that society is based on a value consensus – a set of shared norms and values – into which society socialises its members. This enables them to cooperate harmoniously to meet society’s needs and achieve shared goals. They view the family unit as a construct that fulfils important functions and keeps society running smoothly.
Functionalists believe the family plays a vital role in keeping society running smoothly and maintaining social stability. In order to do so, the family must perform four essential functions for society and its members. Murdock (1949) argues that it is the nuclear family that performs these roles; stable satisfaction of the sex drive as it prevents social disruption, reproduction of the next generation, socialisation of the young and preparing them for adult society, satisfaction of members economic needs.
Functionalists see society in a biological analogy view. They see each institution of society (family, education etc.) as a vital ‘organ’ that is crucial in maintaining the ‘body’ of society. In the same way as a body needs its organs to function, society needs family and education to function fully and cooperate harmoniously. Parsons believes that the family is responsible for the primary socialisation of the young; teaching children basic skills, norms and values that are needed for society.
However, the functionalist theory of the family is not so useful as it ignores conflict (e.g. the dark side of the family), oppression, and it fails to explain the extent of family diversity.
Television and Society In Marie Winn's Essay "Television: The Plug In Drug," she states, "Television's contribution to family life has been an equivocal one." Winn focuses on the issue of television's influence in the lives of American families. Her emphasis is on the medium's influence on children. Although she makes a strong case for the negative influence of television, she fails to consider ...
Parsons view of instrumental and expressive roles is also very outdated. It is a theory that was developed in the 1950’s. Therefore, the position of men and women in society has changed drastically, and men and women are now considered more equal in modern society with the introduction of the ‘new man’ and equal pay rights etc. This means that women nowadays can be the breadwinner, and men do have more expressive roles with caring for children and taking on some housework responsibilities; families are now more symmetrical.
Marxists take a different view of the family. They have a conflict view of society, and believe that the rich (bourgeoisie) exploit the poor (proletariat).
They see the family and all other aspects of society (e.g. education) as oppressive institutions. They believe it performs functions for capitalism; passing on wealth, ideological functions and unit of consumption. Although Marxists take a very different view to functionalists, they both have structural views that see the family as shaped by the wider society. This theory of the family could be considered more useful than the functionalist theory as it considers conflict between social classes, and how it is hard for working class families to function when they are forced to work for the capitalist class to earn wages, with very little social mobility
Like Marxists; Feminists also take a conflict view on society and the family. Radical feminists see the family and marriage are patriarchal institutions. They believe the family oppresses women whilst men benefit from domestic labour and sexual services. Radical feminists think that men dominate women, and all institutions of society, some also believe that the family should be abolished as it is a threat to women, and they are at threat of domestic abuse from men within the family. This could be considered a more useful theory as it does consider oppression within the family. However, feminists ignore the fact that men may also suffer domestic abuse from their wives. They ignore how family has improved, e.g. the new man theory, equal pay rights etc.
... more than men, even when they are not genuinely happy, as they are expected to do. Women are viewed, in our society, as passive ... Male ownership slang and profane language is also a prevalent theory. Women's language is stereotyped as weak, trivial, ineffectual, tentative, hesitant, ... formal language in mixed company, or in the presence of family. With lovers, or friends, both sexes use more colloquial ...
In conclusion, the functionalist approach does provide a useful theory of the family, as they believe it is the family’s responsibility to socialise children so that they can fit into adult society. However a lot of its views are outdated and don’t consider conflict between genders and social classes.