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Functionalism and the Family

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Using the material from the Item and elsewhere, assess the functionalist contribution to our understanding of the family.(24 marks)
Functionalism is a structural theory as it examines social institutions e.g. economy , education etc. It sees these institutions as a way of moulding and shaping the individual. Functionalism is also a consensus theory and tends to encourage sharing norms and values and promotes agreement rather than conflict , value consensus. Functionalists adopt and organic analogy. This is the idea of seeing society as a living system (human body) , e.g. the skin of our body is like our norms and values.
Material from the item says that Murdock (1949) suggests the four main family functions are reproducing the next generation , then going onto to socialise the next generation they have reproduced into the shared culture , value consensus. The third family function Murdock suggests is the economic function , this function involves providing food , shelter and clothes in order for individuals to benefit. The final family function Murdock suggests is the sexual function , this involves adults' sexual needs being satisfied in a way that doesn’t disturb social order. However information from elsewhere has shown that Murdock assumes only the nuclear family can perform these functions. Parsons argued that as modern industrial societies have evolved and changed , the modern nuclear family has lost may of its former functions. Parsons argued that in modern societies , more and more specialised institutions evolve , he called the process structural differentiation.
Parsons portrayed the male member of the relationship as the instrumental leader , suggesting they are best suited to the world of work and being the economic breadwinner. Parsons then portrayed the female member of the relationship as the expressive leader , suggesting they are best suited to the demands of a caring , home-making and child-rearing role and being a dependent wife and mother. Parsons argued that the performance of these roles will depend upon the kind of society and they will develop to meet the needs of the society. Parsons also makes an analogy of the family to a 'warm bath'. This theory suggests that the family relieves the pressures of everyday life and recharges the batteries of individuals , just like a warm bath would.
However , material from the item shown me that functionalists present a far too rosy and uncritical view of the family life. Feminists and Marxists argue that functionalists ignore the families 'dark side' which involves conflict and exploitation.Marxists like Zaretsky say the family acts as a 'comfort zone' for the worker against the hardships of an oppresive , exploitative workplace. Marxist-feminists explain how gender roles in the family 'fit; the requirements of a capitalist society rather than being a 'natural' society like functionalists claim. Also many other agencies are now involved in the family functions and are taking over the role of the family. Agencies like The Welfare Sate and The Government now take a large role in performing the economic function of the family as they provide food , shelter and clothing for families. The welfare and health function has been taken over by the NHS and Social Services and they play a large part in looking after families. School's and the Media have gone on to take over the socialisation and education of children within the family. The final sexual needs and reproduction function has been taken over by prostitution and adoption as these are easy processes to meet this family function.
Overall , Functionalists have a large contribution to our understanding of the family as they provide functions which most families , especially nuclear families still follow to a certain extent. However , Feminists and Marxists have had a large contribution to our contribution and understanding of the family as well as functionalists as they highlight the family 'dark side'.

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