Theories of the Family

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Mind Map on Theories of the Family, created by sophmorgan on 02/02/2015.

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Theories of the Family
1 Consensus/Positive Views of the Family
1.1 Functionalist theories: the family performs positive functions for individuals and society.
1.2 New right theories: the family is the cornerstone of society but it is under threat.
2 Conflict/critical views of the Family
2.1 Marxist theories: the Family provides important functions for capitalism
2.2 Feminist theories: the Family reinforces gender inequality and patriarchy
3 Functionalist theories
3.1.1 Murdock argues that the family is a universal institution that performs four major functions Stable Satisfaction of the sex drive with the same partner, preventing the social disruption caused by sexual ''free for all'' Reproduction of the next generation, without which society would not be able to continue. Socialisation of the young into societies shared norms and values. Meeting its members economic needs, such as shelter and food
3.1.2 Evaluation However, other sociologists have criticised his functionalist approach. Marxists and Feminists reject his 'rose tinted' consensus view that the family meets the needs of both wider society and all members of the family. They argue that functionalism neglects conflict and exploitation. For example, feminists see the famiy as serving the needs of men and oppressing women. Similarly, Marxists argue that it meets the needs of capitalism, not those of family members or society as a whole.
3.2 Talcott Parsons: the functions of the family
3.2.1 Parsons believes that every family in every society has two 'basic and irreducible' functions: the primary socialisation of children and the stabilisation of adult personalities. The initial or primary socialisation takes place in the early years of a child's life within the family group. During this period the child learns the basic elements of the culture into which she or he has been born.
3.2.2 The second basic and irreducible function is the stabilisation of the adults personality. The family gives the individual adult a safety valve, which is a place where she or he can relax, escape the stresses and strains of the world outside and feel emotionally secure.
3.2.3 Evaluation However, Parsons view of the socialisation process can be criticised for being too deterministic, with children and their personalities being moulded by all powerful adults. He ignored the possibility of socialisation being a two way process in which roles are negotiated or that attempts at socialisation can be resisted by children. However, the Marxist Zaretsky argues that the family only provides this emotional support in order to encourage its members to continue to work another day under the harsh realities of capitalism state which looks after the needs of exploited workers at no cost to employers.
3.3 Talcott Parsons: The theory of 'fit'
3.3.1 Parsons argues that the dominant structure of the family best suits the needs of the economy at the time. This mean that nuclear families 'fit' an industrial economy because they are geographically mobile and not reliant on wider kin. This is because family members can easily move to new centres of production. Parsons condcludes trhat only the nuclear family could provide the achievement orientated sndf geographyically mobile workforce required by modern economies.
3.3.2 Evaluation However, according to Wilmott and Young, the pre-industrial family tended to be nuclear, not extended as claimed by Parsons, with parents and children working together in cottage industries such as weaving. They also argues that the hardship of the early industrialised period gave rise to the mother-centred working class extended family, based on ties between mothers and their married daughters, who relied on each other for financial, practical and emotional support. Similarly, Tamara Hareven concludes that the extended family, not the nuclear as claimed by Parsons, was the structure best equipped to meet the needs of early industrial society. Her research showed how extended migrant families in America in the 19th century acted as a source of support and mutual aid, as well as promoting geographical mobility by helping newcomers to find work..
3.4 Overall Evaluation of Functionalist theories
3.4.1 1.Functionalist analyses of the nuclear family tend to be based on middle class and American versions of the family and they consequently neglect other influences such as ethnicity, social class or religion. For example, Parsons does not consider the fact that wealth or poverty may determine whether women stay at home to after children or not. Since parsons wrote in the in the 1950s, many western societies, including the UK, have become multicultural. Religious and ethnic subcultural differences may mean that Parsons’ version of the family is no longer relevant in contemporary society.
3.4.2 2.Feminists argue that as a result of this picture of the family, functionalists tend to ignore the ‘dark side’ of the family – conflict between husband and wife, male dominance, child abuse, and so on. They give insufficient attention to the dysfunctions of the family – the harmful effects it may have on the wider society.
3.4.3 From an interpretivist point of view, functionalists tend to neglect the meanings families have for individuals and how family members interpret family relationships.
4 Marxist Theories
4.1 Marxism is a conflict theory which sees all society’s institutions, such as the education system, the media, religion and the state, as helping to maintain class inequality and capitalism. For Marxists, therefore, the functions of the family are performed solely for the benefit of the capitalist system. This view contrasts sharply with the functionalist view that the family benefits both society as a whole and the individual members of the family.
4.2 Engels : the origin of the family
4.2.1 Engels argued that the need for the family arose when societies started to value private property. With the rise of private property an organised system of inheritance became neces¬sary fathers needed to know who their offspring were in order to pass their property down the family line. With this, argues Engels, the need for monogamy arose one man married to one woman and hence the family was created. Therefore the family serves the interests of the economy in this case the creation of ownership of property – while subjecting women to unequal power relations in the home.
4.2.2 Evaluation However, modern research has suggested that Engels’ interpretation of the development of the family are historically inaccurate. For example, monogamous marriage and the nuclear family are often found in hunter-gatherer groups. Since humans have spent the vast majority of their existence as hunter-gatherers, the idea that the nuclear family emerged as a response to private property is unlikely. Functionalists such as Parsons would reject Engels view of the development of the family. Rather than being a vehicle for passing down inherited wealth, the family plays an important role in socialising the young and stabilising adult personalities. Moreover, the division of labour in families reflects the natural expressive, nurturing and caring roles of women, and the more instrumental, providing role of men.
4.3 Zaretsky: how the family benefits capitalism
4.3.1 Zaretsky suggests that the family serves capitalism by offering emotional security from the oppressive world of work, thus allowing such oppression to continue. However, in reality, it only provides emotional warmth to encourage its members to con¬tinue to live another day under the harsh realities of capitalism.
4.3.2 Evaluation However, the liberal feminist Jennifer Somerville argues that Zaretsky exaggerates the importance of the family as a refuge from life in capitalist society. She suggests that Zarestsky underestimates the extent of cruelty, violence and incest within families. She also argues that Zaretsky ignores the fact that during the early stages of capitalism most working class women had to take paid work in order for the family to survive, and relatively few stayed at home as full-time housewives.
4.4 Althusser and Poulantzas: the ideological role of the family
4.4.1 The family can be seen as serving the functions of an ideological state apparatus by socialising both pro-capitalist ideology and its own familiar ideology in order to maintain such family patterns over time. For example the family socialises its members into accepting gender roles, into accepting that it is 'natural' for men and women to get married and engage in separate roles and jobs in the home: an attitude that is passed down from generation to generation.
4.4.2 Evaluation However, feminists argue that Althusser and Poulantzas ignore the fact that such a family ideology supports patriarchy since it suggests that men and women should have different roles in the family and society roles that lead to the subordination of women to men. Similarly, functionalists reject the view that the family socialises children into capitalist ideology. Instead, the family enables children to internalise the culture of society to enable them to become effective functioning adults.
4.5 Overall Evaluation of Marxist theories
4.5.1 •Marxist views of the family follow logically from Marxist theory. If, for example, the family provides emotional support for workers, then this helps them to accept the injustices of the capitalist system. This makes sense if capitalism is seen as essentially unjust. However, many sociologists reject this view of capitalism and, as a result, Marxist view of the family.
4.5.2 • Feminists argue that the Marxist emphasis on social class and capitalism underestimates the importance of gender inequalities within the family. For feminists, the family primarily serves the interests of men rather than capitalism.
4.5.3 • By contrast, functionalists argue that Marxists ignore the very real benefits that the family provides for its members, such as intimacy and mutual support.
4.5.4 • From an interpretivist point of view, Marxists tend to neglect the meanings families have for individuals and how family members interpret family relationships. For example, Marxists ignore accounts of family life in which some females suggest motherhood is a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
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