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Using material from Item B and elsewhere assess the usefulness of functionalism for an understanding of the family.

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Using material from Item B and elsewhere assess the usefulness of functionalism for an understanding of the family. Functionalists emphasize the integration and harmony between different parts of society, organic analogy, and how these parts work together to maintain the whole, society. They therefore see the 'family' as a vital organ in maintaining the 'body' of society as it performs a number of functions that contribute to society's well being. Although functionalism is useful for exploring functions that families perform it fails to consider influences such as ethnicity, social class and religion. Moreover, the rosy and harmonious picture of family life painted by functionalists ignores social problems such as high divorce rates, child abuse and domestic violence. Sociologists may be in broad agreement that the family institution is clearly related to other institutions within in society, however individuals and sociologists differ in the way they interpret this relationship. Functionalists believe that the family is the 'cornerstone of society'. In a study of the family George Peter Murdoch studied and analysed 250 societies and based on this research he claimed that the 'nuclear family is a universal human social grouping ...it exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every known society'. ...read more.


D.H.J. Morgan states that 'Parsons fails to explore differences between working and middle-class families'. Both in Murdoch's and Parsons's study of the family, they both fail to explore alternatives to the family e.g. Nayar and Kibbutz presenting an ideology of the nuclear family unit. Goode preferred to talk about the conjugal family, based on marriage. He therefore saw this as an 'ideal type' and recognised that real families cannot always be reduced to their nuclear core. He disagreed with Parsons that the family had 'evolved to fit the needs of an industrial economy and instead placed the family of modern Western industrialised nations into context and was aware of the complexities of social change'. Some sociologists presented a challenge to the mainstream functionalist view by pointing out that the state education, health services, social services etc.) is increasingly taking over the functions previously performed by extended families in pre-industrial societies. British sociologist, Ronald Fletcher argued that the functions of the family had increased in detail and importance. Like other functionalists, however, Fletcher recognised that in pre-industrial societies the family was an economic unit of production but with the coming of industrialisation the family was no longer the main economic unit of society but was a unit of consumption, consuming products of Capitalism allowing the bourgeoisie to continue producing surplus value. ...read more.


Functionalism sees the family as an important social institution functioning positively both for society and the individual. It is useful to study the functions performed by a family but its research especially by Murdoch and Parsons is limited because it fails to explore alternatives to the family, it ignores social problems such as divorce, abuse, and violence and ignores other influences such as class and religion. Barrett and MacIntosh saw Functionalism as contributing to an ideology of the family, whose role it was to maintain the status quo, including the oppression of women. The language of roles in the Functionalist account participates in social control by creating an ideology in which roles appear to be natural and inevitable. Radical feminists have contributed a great deal to debates about women's position within society, Liberals have fought against laws and practices that give rights to men but not to women and Marxist Feminism provides a structural approach which means that its theory can be applied to all areas of society, including the family. Therefore the feminist approaches perhaps have made their greatest contribution to family sociology in drawing attention to the importance of family in relation to the social relations of the broader sex/gender system within society. Vikki Holness Page 1 Vikki Holness Page 1 ...read more.

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