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Assess the contribution of functionalism to our understanding of the family.

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Assess the contribution of functionalism to our understanding of the family. Initially we have to consider do functionalists really contribute to our understanding family, additionally if they do how valuable is their perspective and does it still reflect on contemporary society. Functionalists view the family as an institution, which improves society by obtaining equilibrium and social order and stability; they also feel the family should not be studied in isolation but in terms of its contribution to the wider society. Therefore they feel the family does not benefit the individual, but the family is beneficial to the whole of society, in other words they are not too concerned of the individual as they opt to look at the macro-perspective. For instance the family prepares children to become adult workers in various ways for example by passing down their norms and values. Conversely there is the interpretive and symbolic interactionists approach that oppose the views of functionalists and feel the family should be studied in isolation and you should look at the individual, as they tend to advocate the micro-perspective of society. Nevertheless a group who shares the same views, as functionalists, are the New Right. These views being that the stability of the family is an important and integral ingredient for harmony and equilibrium of society. New Right and functionalists felt that the family was the 'heart' of society and both views wanted society to return to 'the days' where there was a true, traditional nuclear family. ...read more.


Primary socialisation refers to socialisation during the early years of childhood that takes place mainly within the family, in other words the teaching of norms and values to children, usually from parents. Parsons felt there were two basic processes involved in primary socialisation: the internalisation of society's culture and the structuring of the personality. Firstly, parsons felt that unless culture is internalised, that is absorbed and accepted, society would cease to exist, since without shared norms and values social life would not be possible. However, culture is not simply learned, it is 'internalised as part of the personality structure'. The child's personality is moulded in terms of the central values of the culture to the point where they become apart of him or her. Additionally, Parsons argued that families are 'factories' that produce human personalities. He believed that they are essential for this purpose since primary socialisation requires a context, which provides warmth, security and mutual support. He could conceive of no institution other than the family that could provide this context. Once produced, the personality must be kept stable. This principle guides us to the second basic function of the family being the stabilisation of adult personalities. The emphasis here is on the marriage and the emotional security the couple provide for each other. This acts as a counterweight to the stresses and strains of everyday life that tend to make the personality unstable. In other words, this emphasises the need for the family to avoid psychological pressures of life that may disturb the adult personality. ...read more.


In conclusion, the contribution of functionalist to our understanding of the family can be questioned, although they are supported by views of the New Right who are not a sociological perspective, but a political perspective that see the family as a cornerstone of society. Additionally they share the functionalist's view that the stability of the family is important to maintain the equilibrium of society. Nevertheless their views are considered more political than sociological and they fail to consider the disadvantages of the nuclear family and disagree with alternatives such as homosexuality. With other theoretical approaches suggesting functionalist only looks at the good side of the family I feel its contribution is vital especially as Leach and Laing provided a balance to the functionalist view that has dominated sociological thinking if the family for many years. Leach was an anthropologist who studied small pre-industrial societies felt that their were pressures between husband and wife due to stress and that they are performing all of the tasks within the family unit and this could lead to members rebelling and fighting. Laing was a phenomenological psychiatrist ad he was concerned with the interaction within the family and the meanings that developed in that context. Overall, Laing in particular has given important insights into the interaction patterns within the family, and in doing so he may have come closer to family life as it is actually experienced than do many of the more orthodox presentations. Therefore it can be assumed that functionalism is a key aid to our understanding but with the criticisms it gains I feel it is obligatory that we look at other perspectives to give us a deeper insight to the meaning of family. ...read more.

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This is a very detailed essay and covers a huge amount of content and key writers. There is also a good balance between the outline of Functionalist views and critical analysis. The essay at times feels cluttered and clearer structure and paragraphing would make the flow of the essay easier to read. Overall mark: ****

Marked by teacher Matthew Wilkin 07/05/2013

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