Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the contribution of functionalism to our understanding of families and households. In this essay, with the use of information from Item A and elsewhere, I will go into an extent to explain the functionalist view of understanding of the role of families and households. Functionalists believe that society is based on a shared value consensus, this is a set of shared norms and values into which society socialises its members, This enables society to work without any disagreements and meet society’s goals and needs.
Functionalists believe that the family is regarded as a basic building block of society. George Murdock (1949) argues that the family performs four functions to meet the needs of society and its members. These functions are; economic needs, reproduction, primary socialisation and sex. Economic function is providing shelter and food for all family members. Sexual function is allowing the sex drive to be satisfied with one partner and therefore preventing conflict. Reproductive function means to produce next generation; have kids.
Socialisation function is teaching the norms and values of society to offsprings. He believed that those needs can only be met within a nuclear family. However, some sociologists would argue that these needs can be achieved in other ways. For example, other family types such as an extended family can be used for primary socialisation and economic security. Other needs such as reproduction and sex can also be satisfied by sperm donors, in-vitro, one night stand, prostitution, friends with benefits etc. Marxists and Feminists have criticised Murdock’s theory.
They say that Functionalism ignores negative aspects of nuclear family, such as domestic violence, cheating, etc. Feminists see the family as being patriarchal and only benefits men and Marxists see the family as meeting the needs of capitalism and not the needs of the family members. According to Parsons there are two types of society; post and pre industrial. Parsons argues that when Britain began to industrialise from the 18th century onwards then the extended family started to disappear and made way for the nuclear family.
Parsons believes that this change happened because the needs of the society changed, he identified that post-industrial societies have two basic needs. First people had to be geographically mobile, as in a modern society, industries are constantly springing up in one area and declining in another. Therefore people had to be able to move to where the work was available. This mobility would be easier for the nuclear family than the extended family, because in extended family it can create conflicts. Secondly there was a real need for a socially mobile workforce.
The pre-industrial family had many functions but due to the industrial revolution these functions have now changed into just two. The first is the primary socialisation of children and the second function is stabilising adult personalities. Marxists argue that the family is shaped by those who own the means of production – bourgeoisie (rich people). Marxists argue that the family performs ideological functions that reinforce inequality between the classes and persuades people to accept the capitalist system as a fair system.
The family socialises children into thinking the inequality and the hierarchy of society are fair. However, Marxists tend to assume that the nuclear family is the most dominant family type in society and they ignore other types of family. Feminists are critical of the Marxist view of the family, believing that they place too much emphasis on class conflict and ignore gender inequalities. Also Functionalists also claim that Marxists and Feminists ignore the functions that a family plays, such as support and intimacy.