Talcott Parsons, a functionalist says the family provide two basic functions which no other institution can. Primary socialisation and emotional gratification or the stabilisation of adult personalities. The family provides stability and emotional support to the next generation and to all members of the family. It helps its members of society get away from their stresses in life. This theory is known as the warm bath theory were the family can help with its members stresses such as hard work, deadlines and money. The family comforts its members and helps them with everything they need. If the family did not fulfil this need it could lead to suicide and unexplained deaths as everything would get on top of the person needing help. In the family functionalists say there are specific male and female roles. The female role is that the homemaker or as Parsons suggests the expressive leader. The male role is that of the bread winner also known as the instrumental leader. Another name for the functionalist view of the family is the consensus approach.
Yes the family may supply all these functions but they do not always do it in the right way. What about the dark side of the family which functionalists don’t include in their theory. A high proportion of violent offences and even murder takes place within the family and a growth of abuse is caused by a breakdown of family values. Child abuse is another reason for the family not doing its functions correctly. Functionalism says that the family provides emotional gratification to its members but child abuse does not fit into this. No love or comfort is shown when a child is actually being abused, so is this function actually being done properly? Next Functionalists say the family provides the sexual function to the best of its ability. But this is not always right as there can be rape in marriages. These are not usually reported as a couple may be married and the husband and wife may think it’s their fault it happened to them. Parsons can too be criticised for being sexist as he says that men are the instrumental role of the family and women the expressive role. This is not always true as some men are house husbands and the wife is the breadwinner. Furthermore a man may be a lone parent meaning he does the entire expressive role too and looking after his children. Times have changed of the years meaning men and women’s roles have become more mixed. Also the function of reproduction cannot always be done. What if the family cannot reproduce children or they can’t afford a child then the reproduction function can’t really be done. Furthermore the family doesn’t always provide the function of education to the next generation. What about Genie, who was a feral child. She was kept in virtual isolation for most of her life and treated cruelly by her parents. Genie wasn’t taught any norms and values which should have been taught by her family and her parents didn’t seem to show any emotional gratification towards her. She had been strapped to a potty chair in an isolated room, with no contact with anyone. This is one of the extreme cases which go against the functionalist view of how the family provides the four functions to the best of its ability. None of the functions in this case were done to any sort of ability of which it should have been.
Karl Marx who created the Marxist theory also criticises the functionalist view of the role family in a different way. They do not agree with the consensus approach like the functionalist. They believe society operates solely for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. The family is an important institution for the ruling classes as it forms part of the superstructure and passing on ruling class norms and values. This view presents the family as the instrument of the ruling class and raising the future workforce with the right set of values which will ensure social reproduction. Marxists believe that the family has many roles, which are beneficial to Capitalist society. Marxists believe that the family aids Capitalism by being a big consumer of goods, which they have to pay for. As long as the family is around, people will keep buying the product and the bourgeoisie will continue to make money. Marxists also believe that housewives are producing the next generation of the proletariat. This means that more people will be created to fill the jobs of the retiring proletariat. Marxists believe that the family cushions the main provider. This is similar to the functionalist "warm bath theory". Family in modern society actually creates an illusion it is private from the economy but really the ruling class benefit from the families existence. The family may provide the four functions but this is just to fit in to a capitalist society. For example the function of socialisation is to benefit society to teach children to be obedient, willing workers and reared into false consciousness. Marxists believe in the conflict approach meaning we live in an unequal society and as a result different classes are in conflict.
Functionalism is the big supporter of the nuclear family is the ideal family type. This is not always true. The nuclear family reinforces the inequality between classes in society. Through the nuclear family, richer families are able to pass on wealth and advantage to their family members, while poorer families will not be able to provide the same opportunities. Such as paying for the same opportunities like paying tor the child to go to college or university or may not be able to go abroad because it costs too much. This type of family keeps the work of the bourgeoisie and capitalism going. This family is not universal as nowadays we begin to see more lone parent families.
The functionalist view if the family is that the family provides all the functions which the next generation need to be able to know such as norms and values of today’s society. We may not be able to work in society without the existence of the family as they help towards the capitalist society. Although this may be beneficial, the Marxists criticise this as the ruling class benefit most from the family while they make money the family earns a less well off income especially working class families. All sociologists have different views and they will never agree what is right or wrong with the family. But one thing they can agree on is without the family, society would not survive.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
Overall this essay covers the basics well and makes good comparisons between Functionalism and Marxism. It would be stronger by applying more Feminism to the discussion and also sometimes the expression could be a little more formal. Mark: ****