Assessment of the Usefulness of Functionalism in Understanding the Family
Functionalism is a structuralist theory. This means it sees the
individual as less important as the social structure of society. It
is a ‘top down’ theory. The family can be defined as an intimate
domestic group composed of people related to each other by blood,
sexual relations and legal ties. When assessing how useful
functionalism is when looking at the family, other views/perspectives
need to be taken into account before making an overall conclusion.
Views from Talcott Parsons, George Murdock, Ann Oakley, Edmund Leach,
R.D Laing, David Cooper and Friedrich Engels will be taken into
account as well as perspectives from Marxism, feminism, family
diversity and radical psychiatrists. This will help draw the final
Functionalist sociologists suggest that the nuclear family is the norm
in modern day industrial societies.
George Peter Murdock (1949) supports the idea of functionalism. After
analysing 250 societies, Murdock argues that the family performs four
basic functions; sexual, reproductive, economic and educational.
These are the essentials for social life, since without sexual and
reproductive functions there would be no members of society, without
economic functions life would cease, and without education there would
be no culture. Human society without culture could not function.
Clearly, the family cannot perform these functions exclusively.
However, it makes important contributions to them all and no other
institution has yet been devised to match its efficiency in this
respect. A weakness of Murdock’s view is that some sociologists may
find his description of the family almost too good to be true. Some
of his views on harmony and integration are not shared be other
researchers. He also does not examine alternatives to the family, not
considering whether its functions could be carried out by other social
institutions. Murdock is criticised for being Euro-centric, as he is
only concerned about the Western families. However, he is supported
by anthropologists; Morris (1968) said the family was a result of
biology and culture over generations (socio-biology). This could be a
strength as it shows some researchers have the same view.
Talcott Parsons bases his ideas on the family in modern American
society. However, despite this his ideas have more general
application since he claims the American family has two ‘basic and
irreducible’ functions which are common to the family in all
societies, unlike Murdock who argued there were four. These were, the
primary socialization of children, where culture is learned and
accepted by children so they know the norms and values that allow
society to exist. Secondly the stabilization of adult personalities,
which is where a...