Examine the Contribution of Functionalist Sociologists to an Understanding of the Family

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  • Topic: Sociology, Talcott Parsons, Functionalism
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Examine the contribution of functionalist sociologists to an understanding of the family (24 marks).
Functionalists regard society as a system made up of different parts that depend on each other such as a family. They see family as an important “organ” in the “body” of society. This is because they tend to look at the family in terms of the functions it performs for the benefit of society and the individual. They see the nuclear family of 2 parents with 2 children as the “ideal”.

George Peter Murdock studied 224 plus societies and found the existence of the nuclear family in all of them. He said there are 4 main functions the family performs. The first is Sexual as this control and stabilises needs and this is solely exclusive to marriage. The second is reproductive this is a culturally acceptable way to bring children into the world. The third is economic the male earns the most amount of income where as the woman performs lighter tasks such as housework. The fourth is Socialisation this teaches the children the norms and values of society.

Talcott Parsons believes the family has become more specialised and now performs 2 basic and irreducible functions which are primary socialisation of children and stabilisation of adult personalities which means when parents indulge in there childish side. However Parsons claims the family is only functional when its members fulfil their allocated roles. These roles are for women to natural possess an expressive role which is the caring, house working role. For men it’s an instrumental role which is the working role in the family.

Another functionalist view is the “warm bath theory”. Functionalists see the family as a haven in a heartless world which cares for and nurtures its members. The family can be likened to a warm bath or a nest to which we retreat.
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