Assess the Contribution of Functionalism to Our Understanding of Family.

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Functionalist views are some of the most well known theories on the family and have contributed to our understanding of the family in various ways.

It is useful to consider how the family supports wider society. Functionalism considers this by deciding what functions the family must perform and therefore which type would suit society best. Functionalism believes that the nuclear family ‘fits’ and supports society because it is geographically mobile and allows people to move around the country to find work with little upheaval. This suits our current economy and also suited it in the past such as during the Industrial Revolution. However, Goode thought that Industrialisation undermined the extended family by weakening kinship ties and gave the family less to offer in regards to support. Another way Functionalism suggests that the family supports society is the basic functions a family performs. Murdock (1949) said that there are four basic functions: Reproductive, Sexual, Socialisation and Economic. Another Functionalist Talcott Parsons said that the family had 2 main functions: Primary Socialisation and the Stabilisation of Adult Personalities. Both believed that for a family to perform Socialisation adequately there needed to be a male and a female role model. Men performed the instrumental role and provided for a family while women performed the expressive role and provided comfort and emotional support to the family. They also believed that marriage was a necessary institution for both a stable household and an acceptable expression of the libido. Functionalists think that the family that best performs these functions and therefore supports society is the nuclear family. However, this is a very traditional approach and can be outdated and criticised by other theories.

Functionalism contributes to our understanding of the family by considering the effect of the family on society as a whole rather than on the individual members. This macro-sociological...
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