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The Family has long been considered by Sociologists as absolutely essential to Society and crucial to the way in which society runs.

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Introduction

The Family has long been considered by Sociologists as absolutely essential to Society and crucial to the way in which society runs. There are, of course many definitions of what constitutes a family, what its basic functions are and whether or not it is a positive or negative entity. In the light of G.P. Murdock's quote that " no society has succeeded in finding an adequate substitute for the Nuclear Family ... it is highly doubtful whether any society will ever succeed in such an attempt."1 It becomes necessary to clarify what exactly a Nuclear Family is, what the Functionalist Perspective of the family is and how it came into being. The Nuclear Family is generally assumed to be the most prevalent family type in most societies. It is a two generational family consisting of a Father and Mother, usually husband and wife, and their children. This type of family structure obviously does not apply to everyone but Functionalists would suggest that this is the most desirable state for a family to function in, indeed many other family types would be seen as dysfunctional. The Functionalist approach views the family in a positive light. It assumes that if any function exists then it exists for a reason, that reason being the performance of positive functions for society in general and the individual in particular. ...read more.

Middle

With changing attitudes to unmarried couples and to single parent families this number may decrease even further. Many people choose to co-habit out of choice and for financial reasons and are not forced into marriage by the fear of being stigmatised. Even though it appears that many who co-habit go on to get married is it wrong to say that they are not a family untill they get the wedding license?. Similarly one parent families have increased to the point at which it is estimated that less than one in ten families fall into this catogorie. The more liberal attitude towards gay people may lead to an upsurge of co-habiting single sex couples. The functionalist assumption that this would not constitute a family would seem very unfair. The Functionalist perspective as to what constitutes a family, as can be seen , has many critics. The notion of what a families functions are and that these functions are positive is radically challenged by those who adopt the Marxist perspective. The central tennant of Functionalism, consensus, is replaced by conflict so therefore functions acted out for societies good, in functionalist's view, are seen by Marxists to be the result of conflict between the two classes in society. Marxists believe that the nuclear family is a " Bourgeois entity based on private greed and oppression."6 The Marxist perspective on the family is, like Functionalism, greatly influenced by two Sociologists, Fredrich Engels and more recently Eli Zaretsky. ...read more.

Conclusion

If we take Murdock's definition of family i.e. " Social group... common residence... adults of both sexes... two adults in a socially approved sexual relationship... one or more children natural or adopted by these two adults."8 then it is clear that the family is not universal as it excludes single parents, unmarried couples, gay couples and childless couples. Later definitions such as Pter Worsley's or one used by PL Selfe give a much wider scope for inclusion " The family is a social unit made up of people who support each other in one of several ways, for example, socially, economically or psychologically or whose members identify with each other as a supportive unit."9 Using this definition the family is indeed universal as it may include anyone who considers themselves as a family. It could be said that some form of family is universal although not everyone exists within a family at any one time. Functionalists present a picture of the family, which is over simplified, general and limited in the way that it only sees, the benefits of the family. The family is obviously beneficial and positive for many people but as Marxists, Feminists and other critical perspectives point out different views and experiences exist within society. The family as Murdock saw it again, is not universal but one of many family types each tailored to meet the needs and requirements of individuals and their societies and circumstances. ...read more.

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