Sociology access Lec 1 Theories of the family

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Information about Sociology access Lec 1 Theories of the family

Published on February 12, 2009

Author: liamgr


Access to sociology:  Access to sociology Theoretical Perspectives on the Family Liam Greenslade January 2009 Theories of the Family:  Theories of the Family Functionalism Stresses conformity, consensus and the preservation and reproduction of the social order Conflict theories Stress the restrictive, the oppressive and exploitative nature of the family Marxism Feminism R.D Laing Functionalism:  Functionalism Functionalists believe every institution in society contributes to the smooth running of society. To functionalists the family is at the heart of society. Murdock (1949) claimed that the nuclear family is so useful to society that it is inevitable and universal The ‘universal’ nuclear family:  The ‘universal’ nuclear family Murdock (1949) claimed that he had found evidence of families in the 250 different societies he studied He defined the family as social group characterised by: Common residence Economic co-operation Reproduction Two adults who maintain a socially approved sexual relationship 1 or more children (biological or adopted) of these adults Murdoch and the functions of the family:  Murdoch and the functions of the family The family is said to universal because it performs essential functions for society:- Sexual – controls sexuality, provides stability for adults Reproductive – provides new members of society. Economic – family provides for its members. Educational – family socialises the young into societies norms and values. Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) and the functions of the Family :  Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) and the functions of the Family Primary socialisation – through which children learn to accept the value the norms and values of society The stabilisation of adult personalities – the family gives adults the emotional support necessary to cope with the stresses of everyday life The Functionalist Family:  The Functionalist Family Parsons presents us with a modern, stripped down family structure, appropriate for an advanced modern industrial society such as Britain and the USA As societies industrialize, the family correspondingly adapts and evolves. In the past there was strong emphasis on the economic and maintenance needs of family members. As societies industrialize and become more complex, with an increasing division of labour and specialization of tasks, so agencies outside the family have taken over its responsibilities. Socialisation: The family as integrating mechanism:  Socialisation: The family as integrating mechanism Functionalist sociology has tended to look towards the family as the cornerstone of social integration in any given society The "integrating function" derives mainly from the fact that the family group represents the primary institution, in any society, for the initial socialisation of children Any institution charged with this responsibility is going to play a significant part inthe reproduction of cultural norms and values. Social Order: The family as a unit of stability:  Social Order: The family as a unit of stability Of equal importance to the socialisation function, the family also represents an institution that acts as a stabilising force in society. Great stress is placed upon such things as emotional and sexual stability, economic co-dependence and so forth. The family is seen to be an institution that is charged with ensuring the maintenance of social equilibrium. Slide10:  Functionalism stresses the ‘isolated’ and ‘private’ nuclear family The functionalist view suggests that the nuclear family has become: Socially isolated from extended kin More reliant on the Welfare State Geographically separated from wider kin Critique of Functionalism:  Critique of Functionalism Idealises the nuclear family. Ignores conflict and abuse within families Ignores gender inequality within families Ignores rising divorce rates Ignores growing family diversity (e.g. single parent families) Marxist perspectives on the family:  Marxist perspectives on the family Marx himself didn’t pay much attention to the role of the family His friend and collaborator Engels attempted to trace the evolution of the family through time in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” published in 1884 Origins of the Family Private Property and the State:  Origins of the Family Private Property and the State Uses archaeological and anthropological data to trace the evolution of the modern family Shows how the economic basis alters patterns of family organisation. Demonstrates how the changing mode of production leads to a decline in the status of women and women’s work One of the 1st works of socialist feminism Engels’ Conclusions:  Engels’ Conclusions The monogamous bourgeois nuclear family is patriarchical It is designed to guarantee and perpetuate male power through the inheritance of property It developed to help solve the problem of the inheritance of private property – men needed to know who their children were in order to pass on their property to their heirs The family is therefore designed to control women and protect property The family as a prop to capitalism:  The family as a prop to capitalism Socialisation and reproduction of new generations of workers thereby reproducing both labour power and an acceptance of capitalism (false consciousness). Means of transmission of private property Cushions the effects of capitalism – makes it seem less bad by acting as a safety valve for the stresses and frustrations of working class life. Oppression of women Unpaid domestic labour to raise children and run household Women were made economically dependent upon men Unit of consumption – the family buys & uses goods produced by the economy Feminism :  Feminism The Marxist approach contends that the family is a prop to bourgeois patriarchy Feminism takes the gender aspect of oppression and contends that the nuclear family preserves and reproduces patriarchal ideology and contributes to the oppression of both women and children Marxist Feminism:  Marxist Feminism Argues for the existence of a ‘family ideology’ (a.k.a ‘familialism’) Capitalism emphasises the role of women as mothers and encourages them to have children and take responsibility for rearing them State policies support this ideology and emphasise the importance of women as mothers (e.g. maternity leave) Capitalism exploits women’s domestic labour and men benefit as a result Women form part of the ‘reserve army of surplus labour’ who can be hired and fired easily as the economy demands Radical Feminism:  Radical Feminism ‘The first oppression is the oppression of women’ The modern nuclear family emerged to meet the needs of men Familial ideology is patriarchal ideology into which both men and women are socialised Gender roles learned in childhood implicitly and explicitly reinforce patriarchal ideas Women’s work traditionally includes unpaid domestic labour Postmodernity & the family:  The postmodern family defined by diversity, variation and instability Young women no longer solely aspire to marriage More women choose delay or avoid having children in favour of a career Men have been forced to re-assess their status within the family Pre-marital sex and serial monogamy have become acceptable Postmodernity & the family Postmodernity & the family 2:  Postmodernity & the family 2 Developments in reproductive technology have changed who can be a mother Children have acquired rights and protection within the family Dual career households have led to a ‘renegotiation’ of domestic duties and child-rearing patterns Choice, diversity and instability have brought about a change in familial commitments Further Reading:  Further Reading Most sociology general textbooks include a chapter on the family which will include discussions on family theory Chris Livesey’s Sociology Central website ( contains a number of good quality downloadable PDFs on the topic of family theory and structure

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