Examine the contribution of functionalist explanations towards an understanding of the family

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SOCIOLOGY ESSAY (1500 words)


Functionalists believe that the family is a positive institution and view the ideal modern family as being the Nuclear Family. The nuclear family is described by Giddens (1989, p385) as a family ‘which consists of two adults living together in a household with their own or adopted children’. Abercrombie et al (2006 p168) defines the nuclear family as ‘Social units comprising a man and a woman living together with their children’ Regardless of individuals definitions of what the nuclear family is, it is perceived as a family consisting of a father, mother and their children.The functionalist view (most popular in the 1960’s) of the nuclear family comprises of a breadwinner husband and dependant wife and children – the ‘cereal packet family’ (Leach 1968) - this view of the family is also taken by sociologists like Murdock and Parsons. Functionalists take a consensus approach towards society and believe social institutions such as a family play an important part – i.e. the family makes a positive contribution towards society. Although Murdock and Parsons put across are similar themes – they believe that a nuclear family is best suited for a healthy society. Functionalists see the family as essential to the smooth running of society, therefore they emphasise the positive role of the family. Of all the views of the family the functionalists view is the most positive, whereas feminist and Marxist views and definition of the family are dissimilar – they tend to take a more negative view of the family and argue that functionalist views of the family have many flaws.

      ‘The family is a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It contains 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 cohabiting adults. ’ This is George Murdock’s (1949) definition of the family, which he concluded was universal and has always existed. Murdock looked at 250 societies and came up with 4 functions of the family – sexual, reproduction, economic and education. In other words Murdock believed the family serves to regulate sexual behaviour, produces the next generation of society by reproduction, acts as an economic unit and socializes children into the culture of their society (education). Paul Taylor et al (2000 p234) states ‘Murdoch sees the family as functional not only for society at large but also for its individual members. The family is, in his view, universal, since neither the individual nor society could survive without it’.. Like other functionalists Murdock believes that the nuclear family benefits society and bases his ideas on the adult personality being stable and educating children into society's norms and values. This is another functionalist view that is dependent on nuclear families creating a stable society.

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    Another functionalist perspective of the family is that of Talcott Parsons (1955). Parsons saw the family as having 2 functions – Socialisation and Stabilisation of Adult personalities. By Socialisation Parsons meant socialising children into society’s norms and values, so they can become member of that society that they were born into. He sees the stabilization of adult personalities – where responsibility for children gives emotional security and the family acts as a haven from the difficulties of the world outside.

Parsons views the family as being economically adaptable – being small making it a geographically and socially mobile unit ...

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There are random uses of capital letters for certain words in this essay, “Socialisation” and “Nuclear” which is inaccurate. I think the writer just feels that these terms are crucially important to the essay, and so feels the need to differentiate them somehow. However this importance could be best portrayed by using quotation marks instead. Murdock is spelled incorrectly as “Murdoch” and Willmott as “Millmott” which inclines me to think that the writer could and should have taken time to proof read their writing. On the whole though, spelling, punctuation and grammar are fair.

The essay begins with: “Functionalists believe that the family is a positive institution and view the ideal modern family as being the Nuclear Family. The nuclear family is described by Giddens (1989, p385) as…” which wrongly seems to imply that Giddens is a Functionalist. He is in fact a late modernist. I feel that this would not diminish the overall grade awarded to this otherwise academically sound essay, but it’s just these little things that distinguish the top candidates from the rest. However I like the candidate’s use of dates as it shows how theories have changed and developed over time. The writer explains sociological theory in detail, which shows the great extent of their knowledge. Marxism and feminism are also well explained as a Functionalist critique, which is impressive. Marxist and feminist key terms are used well in context, “capitalist” and “patriarchy”, as well as Functionalist key concepts such as “the stabilisation of adult personalities”. This clearly shows that they have a good knowledge of sociology as a whole. The use of a bibliography suggests that the writer has thought very carefully about their essay, and has therefore documented where their evidence has come from for future reference (obviously in examination conditions this isn’t necessary). It shows the examiner that they have an awareness of other people’s work – they are not just copying or plagiarising. Instead they are using other people’s work, in their essay, to come to an informed conclusion.

This question has been answered well. The writer has a sound understanding of Functionalism, which is evident as the essay refers to many Functionalist sociologists (Parsons, Fletcher, Murdock). As well as using external criticisms from other groups within sociology such as feminism, the writer provides internal criticisms. For example: “Whilst Fletcher (1966) agrees Murdock and Parsons that the nuclear family is the normal family, he disagrees with Parsons that the social functions in the family have decreased over time”. The fact that the writer reflects on differences within Functionalist sociology, really shows that they understand the main sociological theory that the question is addressing. The introduction and the conclusion are of very high standards – they are detailed, and not just the brief few lines that most candidates tend to write.