Functionalism View on the Family

In: Social Issues

Submitted By Beularrhh
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Functionalism is a theory that views society as a whole. Functionalists believe that society is based on a value consensus – a set of shared norms and values – into which society socialises its members. This enables individuals to cooperate harmoniously to meet society’s needs and achieve shared goals. Functionalists regard society as a system with symbiotic parts, in that each part depends on each other to function efficiently. For such reasons they use an organic analogy to explain society. For example, just as organs such as the heart or lungs perform functions vital to the well being of the body as a whole, so the family meet some of society’s needs, such as the need to socialise children. Murdock argued that these functions are; economic needs such as food and shelter, reproduction (without which society could not continue), primary socialisation of the young into society’s shared norms and values and sex. He believes that those needs can only be achieved within a nuclear family. However, some sociologists would argue that these needs can be met in other ways than within the family. For example, other family types such as an extended family or institutions such as the Kibbutz in Israel can be used for primary socialisation and economic security. Other needs such as reproduction and sex can also be met by sperm donors or prostitution.
Marxist and Feminist sociologists have criticised Murdock’s (1994) theory. They contend that functionalism ignores conflict and exploitation within society. Feminists see the family as being patriarchal and serving the needs of men and Marxists see the family as meeting the needs of capitalism and not the needs of the family members. According to Parsons there are two types of society; pre and post industrial. Parsons argues that when Britain began to industrialise from the 18th century onwards then the extended family became…...

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