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functionalists view of the family Cheat Sheet by

WJEC AS understanding sociology


-The functi­onalist theory of family suggests that the nuclear family has developed to suit the needs of society.
-This idea is known as the fit thesis.
-the Functi­onalist view of the family has been critised because it is seen as being too optimi­stic.
-Whilst it has supporting studies, it overlooks the darker sides of family life.
-Parsons is a key thinker for functi­ona­lism. He wrote extens­ively about the family functions in society.


-To conclude the general idea of the functi­onalist views of family is that the family carriers out different functions in order to support society and allow it to function properly.
-they tend to see the nuclear family as the ideal family for industrial societies and argue thatit performs positive functions such as social­ising children and providing emotional security for parents.
-see the importance of family to people and sees its importance in organising society.
-However there are many criticisms from a theore­tical point of view especially from marxism and feminism which claim that the functi­onalist overlook the dark side of family life, the exploi­tation of women and the way that families are part of the ideology of capita­lism.


-overlooks effects of mjor social inequa­lities
-claims to be scientific but little research and evidence.

Parsons functional fit

Parsons has a historical perspe­ctive on the evolution of the nuclear family.
-His functional fit theory is that as society changes the type of family that fitsso­ciety and the functions it performs.
-Futhe­rmore, the functions that the family has to perform will effect it shape or sructure. Parsons distin­guishes between two kinds of family struct­ures, 1. The nuclear family: of just parents and their dependent children which fits industrial society. 2.The extended family: of three genera­tions living under one roof which fits preind­ustrial society.
-Parsons view , when britian began to industrial from the late 18th century onwards, the extended family began to give way to the nuclear , this is because the NF met the needs of the industrial society.
critic­isms: according to Willmo­tt&Young the pre-in­dus­trial family was nuclear not extended as parsons claims with parents and children working together for examplesin cottage industries such as weaving

Tradit­ional gender roles

an importanct part of social­isation according to functi­ona­lists is 'gender roles social­isa­tion'
-if primary social­isation is done correctly then boys will learn to adopt the 'instr­umental roles that thier father presents ( go out and earn money"
-Girls learn to adopt the 'expre­ssive role' by doing all the caring, housework and bringing up the children.
-Parsons believe the nuclear family was the ideal enviroment for children to be socialised in, partic­ularly for gender roles.
-in the NF children have a single father­/male figure.
-roles are easier to identify in NF, due to tradit­ional roles.
-Parsons believes that nuclear families are biolog­ically natural and have developed through evolutions to fit the different roles of men and women.
Critic­isms: Parsons view of the instru­men­tal­& expressive roles of men&women is very old fashioned, it seems that both partners are more likely to take on both roles.

Two functions of the family

according to Parsons, the NF is still the only instit­ution that can perform the core functions in society.
1.Primary social­isa­tion: The nuclear family is still respon­sible for teaching children the norms and values of society known as primary social­isa­tion. Children are taught the rules for society from their parents, which is apart of social control. An important part of social­isation according to the functi­ona­lists is 'gender role social­isa­tion.'
2. The stabil­isation adult person­ali­ties: The establ­ishment of NF refers to the emotional security which is achieved within a marital relati­ons­hip­between two adults. According to Parsons working life in indust­ria­lso­ciety is stress­fuland the family is a place where the working ma can return and destress by his wife and children which reduces conflicts in society. This is also known as the warm bath theory.
critic­isms: Parsons paints a very rosey picture of family life, presenting it as a harmonious and interg­rated instit­utions. However, they downplay conflict in the family partic­ularly the 'darker side' of the family life. Fran Ansley also states it as oppressive and 'women are takers of shit'

Murdock's 4 basic functions

George Murdock argued that the nuclear family was a universal feature of all human societies. in other words the nuclear family is in all societies. he suggests there are four essential functions of the NF:
1. Sexual- stable satisf­action of sex drive within monogamous relati­ons­hips, which prevents sexual jealousy.
2. Reprod­uctive- The biological reprod­uction of the next generation without which society cannot continue.
3. Educat­ional- Social­isation of the young teaching basics norms and values
4. Economic- Meeting its members ecominic needs, producing food and shelter for example.
Critic­isms: Feminist sociol­ogists argue that arguing the family is essential is ideologial because tradit­ional family structures typically disadv­antage women. It is feasible that other instit­utions could perform the functions above.

Organic Analogy

talcott parsons argued that society was like a human body
-society was made up of various instit­utions that act like the organs of the body: they all need to be functi­oning properly for the body to work.
- the family is one of these instit­itu­ations.
-by carrying out processes such as primary social­isation and social control the family helps society function well.
-if one function of the family fails, it will have an ongoing effect on society.
- Parts of society should be understood in terms of what they contribute to society as a whole e.g primary social­isation enables members to intergrate into society.
-when all members in society have been socialised into its norms and values it creates a well interg­rated functi­oning society.
Critic­isms:No such thing as social solidarity & society is fluid & diverse not interd­epe­nde­nt(­Beck).


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