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Assess the contributions that functionalists, Marxist's and feminists have made to the study of the family

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Introduction

Assess the contributions that functionalists, Marxist's and feminists have made to the study of the family Sociologists may be in broad agreement over the idea that the family institution is clearly related to other social institutions, however individuals and groups of sociologists differ in the way they interpret this relationship. Those writers who emphasise the generally functional nature of this relationship are Structural Functionalists. Those writers who, while agreeing that the family performs certain functions, emphasise the way in which these functions are closely linked to the economic structure of any society are Conflict Marxist theorists. Those writers who interpret the relationship between family and wider society in terms of power relationships between men women are Feminist Conflict theorists Marxists tend to see institutions like the family in terms of what they do to support a certain structure within capitalist society. Unlike functionalist sociology, conflict sociology tends to see things from more than one angle. Feminist sociology tend to see societal relationships in terms of how it exploits another part of society due to gender (i.e.: men exploiting women.) Two well known functionalists are Murdock and Parsons, Murdock defined the family as: "The family is a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually co-habitating adults" His research was based upon the analysis of two hundred and fifty societies. ...read more.

Middle

Marxists agree that the family Is a social institution, and serves some purpose in society . However they believe that the family has mainly exploitative aspects and serves to exploit and oppress. A leading Marxist, Fredriech Engels, believes in the evoloution of the family- that in the early stages of human development, the means of production was communally owned and the modern day family did not exist- This era of primitive communism was characterised by promiscuity. There were no rules limiting sexual relationships. Although Engels has been criticised for this view of human society, anthropologist Kathleen Gough argues that this may be quite close to the truth. She says that the nearest relation to man, the chimpanzee, live in promiscuous hordes and this may have been the pattern for early man. Engels says that the nuclear family developed as human people put more restrictions on property and partners. Thus, the monogamous relationship developed with the emergence of private property. Engels theory was largely based on an erroneous interpretation of the family by the nineteenth century anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan . Modern research tells us that many of his details were incorrect. This casts a shadow of doubt over Engels theory of the evolution of the family. Essentially, in Marxist terms, the family is a means by which the rich, or the bougesiose, maintain oppression of the poor, or the proletariat, the family also functions to produce a workforce for the bougesiose. ...read more.

Conclusion

The many groups within sociology which have differing opinions on family structure use evidence which supports their cause. Feminists choose statistics which best show that women are oppressed within the family, Marxists choose data which best shows exploitation. All the different groups may have a valid viewpoint, but they fail to respond to the claims made by the other groups and ignore the wider spectrum of society as a whole. The Marxists have provided a view of a grossly exploited society, the feminists have provided the same view although they replaced class exploitation for male domination and the functionalists have provided an idealistic view. These are all useful, as they describe a certain section of society or show us someone's view of the family but ambiguity is also nessacery, as we need to remember that some evidence is often biased. All in all, the different and often conflicting sides in sociology have shaped the way we perceive and define the family. Marxism has shown that sometimes, the family can be a tool for oppression and exploitation and the functionalists have given an idealistic view of the family, one that has been our societies norm for years. They have all contributed to the study of the family and as societies culture changes, so will our definition of the family unit. Sociology A level essay: ...read more.

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