Outline and evaluate Functionalist views of the role of the family in society. [33 marks]
Functionalism is a structuralist theory; this meaning that it sees social structure (the social organisation of society) as more important than individuals. Functionalist sociologists believe that people have a range of basic needs that must be met if society is to run smoothly. Different groups and individuals in society are important because they perform certain functions which meet society's needs. Functionalism supports the family in nearly every way, to the support it offers to the next generation and the way it teaches them the four functions they need to survive. George Peter Murdock described the family as being “a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It contains adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults." Therefore Murdock’s definition is based on the nuclear family – a stereotypical two-generation family made up of a heterosexual couple with dependent offspring. This definition was popular with right-wing sociologists who suggested that this is the ideal type of family to which people should aspire.
Murdock suggests the family provides four main functions that help society and its individual members. Firstly he says the family provides the sexual function, this means married adults enjoy a healthy sex life preventing from social distributions such as rape. Society can run much more smoothly from this as this means less rape crime. Secondly he says the family provide the reproductive function, producing the next generation for society. Society can benefit from this as they can take the next generation and fit them into the jobs that need filling, without any children society couldn't survive at all. Everyone in society has a role to fulfil. Doing these makes society work effectively...
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