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Assess the Usefulness of the Functionalist View of the Family Essay Sample

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Assess the Usefulness of the Functionalist View of the Family Essay Sample

Assess the usefulness of the Functionalist view of the family (24 marks) Functionalism is a macro theory and so looks at things on a large scale they consist of structural theorists. They see society as being similar to a human body, in that the essential organs in the body perform specific functions. This is like society as one of the essential organs in society is the family, as it performs essential functions which serve the needs of the family. And that each part of the body works in harmony with all other parts just like society which works in harmony with all other parts. Over the course of time the family has changed and evolved and so has its functions this is known as ‘the March in Progress.’ Even though the functions may have changed slightly according to the functionalists the role of the family is still essential for society.

Murdock was the first functionalist theorist who studied the family. He did this in 250 different societies of different cultures; this study was done in 1949. He claimed that the family is universal and inevitable and that families exist in every society. He saw that the family had four functions occurred in every society. These functions are sexual, reproductive, economic and educational. The sexual function of the family is to establish sexual relationships whereby people have one partner who meets their sexual needs. This reduces step-relations and the number of children born outside marriage and also reduces the number of STI/STD’s. Another function of the family that Murdock saw was reproductive, this is vital to keep the human race going as it continues to create new generations which in turn, provides new work forces. The third function that Murdock saw was that of economic. This is that families provide economic support to particularly the young but this is extending as parents are paying longer to keep children.

This economic function allows the economy to function successfully by instilling attitudes and values for the workforce. The final function that Murdock saw was that the family is an agent of social control as they family teaches us about stable relationships and values. This is when children are taught the difference between right and wrong which helps ensure society functions properly. Another functionalist that also studied the family in the 1950s is Talcott Parsons. Compared to Murdock, he saw the family as only having two functions. These were: primary socialisation and stabilisation. Primary socialisation teaches children norms and values of society i.e. the difference between right and wrong. These relationships established in the child’s early years teach the child about the basic element of the culture they were born into. Stabilisation ensures parents provide security to help individuals cope with the wider society by stabilising personalities and emotional, the family also gives a person a place where they can escape from the stress of the world and so making them feel emotionally secure. Parsons saw the family as being a factory that produces the next batch of citizens.

Functionalists see the family and other aspects of society of constantly evolving; they say that the family has evolved to meet the needs of modern day contemporary society. And so specific functions have changed to meet the needs of society and while doing this, according to Talcott Parsons the family is losing specific functions although it is becoming more specialised in the functions that it still maintains. The two functions that Parsons believes have been removed are educational and economic as governments are providing money to families with children. Although the family has lost some functions, they are left with what they do best and have become specialised in these areas. Parson maintains that although some functions have been lost, the family is still a very important institution in society. If the functions aren’t performed well then it can lead to problems in later life such as crime and unemployment. Functionalists say that the end of the family would mean that society couldn’t work.

There have also been criticisms of the usefulness of the functionalists view on the family. Functionalists have been accused of idealising the families and that they overplay the harmonious nature of the family, as in fact the family isn’t idyllic. This is seen in the statistic that in England and Wales one child per week is killed by their parent or career (NSPCC) and so functionalists ignore the dark side of the family. Functionalists also ignore the high divorce rates which show us that there are problems within the family, as in 2005, 13 out of 1000 marriages ended in divorce (ONS 2006.) This is outlined in family life then as children from divorced families find it hard to adjust and the results of this is misbehaviour and withdrawal from school and so the children have no educational qualifications resulting in unemployment. This is outlined in family life then as children from divorced families find it hard to adjust and the results of this is misbehaviour and withdrawal from school and so the children have no educational qualifications resulting in unemployment.

Feminists attack the idea that the family is functional for all as the family exploits women as two women are murdered each week by their partner (Home Office 2006.) In terms of assessing how useful of the functionalist view of the family it definitely gives us the basic functions of the family and illustrates their purposes in society. Although the functionalist view is seen as being an old train of thought, its ideas are still used in today’s society this can be seen through the conservative government’s views. However society has become more diverse which has caused the family to become diverse. The nuclear family is now not the only family type and there is a whole different range of family units and this is when we can say that the functionalists theories are not useful as they only deal with the nuclear family, and so this theory cannot be used to study anything outside the nuclear family. One of the biggest criticisms connected to this theory is the lack of discussion on the dark side of the family and that not all families perform the basic functions well and so the consequences of this are seen in society.

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