Functionalism is a consensus theory which looks at society positively. Functionalists often make an organic analogy, as a human body is maintained by the functions of each part of a body, keeping it alive and healthy, similarly, and society is kept going by its institutions- family being one of the institutions which function to sustain the well-being of society. It is recognised by functionalists that families change themselves over time for the sake of adapting to society, an example would be leading functionalist Emile Durkheim who strongly believed that family was the most important institution of society. Durkheim believed that family positively functioned for both individuals and society. The family, he believed, is the institution that offers its members emotional support, stability and gives them identity as primary socialisers, and to an extent, teaches them how they should act towards the rest of the society. He proves that they perform a positive function to society too, as they provide fundamental social order and stability, which helps prevent the society from becoming disordered. Talcott Parson’s was a functionalist who analysed the families from a modern perspective and came to a conclusion that although families have less functions, as they are provided with help from the state, they still perform two important functions which determine the actions within a society. These two functions focus on the individuals- the first being the socialisation of children primarily, into the responsible, committed individuals that society can benefit from and the second is the stabilisation of adult personalities, as he stated that it was family who help ease away tensions of the modern world, particularly for male workers. He always believed that these functions were best found in nuclear families, where the clear sexual division labour enabled wives to partake an expressive role while men held an instrumental role. The functionalism theory sheds light on the positive aspects of family life which will contribute to the society positively. Each functionalist has consistently mentioned a vital performance that families partake- the primary socialisation of children. During this stage a child learns about his/her culture and is most likely to be taught the norms and values of their society. Primary socialisation is a vital performance which is done by the family, as a child is expected to have acknowledgement of the norms and values in order to adjust with society they live in.
Although the functionalist’s theory does not look at the negative aspects of the family there are others that do. It can only be assumed that functionalist view was patriarchal- the belief that men are dominate. This assumption is only representative of Parson as he introduced the warm bath theory, whereby he suggests that it was men that had a hard day at work and their wives (women) stayed at home and made them feel better when the husbands came home. Radical feminists are those who focus on this discrimination and have firm belief that that world in wrongly is dominated by men. They believe that patriarchal ideology gives women a perception that motherhood is their natural role whereas is actually keeps women subservient to men. They express show women have at least a dual role but must have a ‘triple burden’ which consists of the roles of a paid worker, a mother and a housewife. The Marxists theory characterises the society as being one that exploits and subordinates the working class. They argue that the family only benefits capitalists as they produce the working class, teach their children to accept capitalists values when primarily socialising them, which are to hard work, accepting and respecting authority, and it is the family that makes their members fell like capitalism is the norm. Radical psychiatrists on the other hand, argue that the family as a whole is a deception. Clinical evidence proves that family suffer exploitation oppression and a negative experience. The modern family is so ‘independent’ that is leads to emotional stress between the members. They disagree with functionalists and say that families actually spend too much time trying to please others by doing what they are expected to do, which prevents them from having autonomy. If someone did something wrong it would lead to shame, guilt and repression. This leads to the ‘dark side’ of the family which includes abuse to children and domestic violence to both men and women. It may be so that the family as individuals may be affected more if they suffer these negative experiences however, it also may affect the society because one’s participation to society will become effortless regardless of the way they contribute.
There are different views of the family that highlight how they function in society and towards individuals. Functionalism is the main theory that promotes the positive aspects of a family and reflects the positive contributions a family makes towards society by performing essential functions such as reproduction, primary socialisation and social control. There are also many theories that focus of the negative aspects of the family- the things that make family a bad function of society. However, it has to be said that all the theories are correct if read from the perspective that they are written in. Although the family does have a ‘dark side’ and may not comply with all theorists, such as radical psychiatrists and radical feminists, they will manage to uphold the main functions, that are to reproduce, socialise with individuals and support their family. Ultimately, it is these functions that are helping the society as a whole.