Sociology Functionalism

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Assess the contribution of functionalism to an understanding of families and households. (24 marks) Functionalists believe that society is based on a shared value consensus, this is a set of shared norms and values into which society socialises its members, This enables society to work harmoniously and meet society’s needs and goals. Functionalists believe that the family is regarded as a basic building block of society. According to Parsons the family provides two important functions. The first is the primary socialisation of children and the second function is stabilising adult personalities. Murdock (1949) argues that the family performs four essential functions to meet the needs of society and its members. These functions are; economic needs, reproduction, primary socialisation and sex. He believes that those needs can only be achieved within a nuclear family. However, some sociologists would argue that these needs can be met in other ways than within the family. For example, other family types such as an extended family or institutions such as the Kibbutz in Israel can be used for primary socialisation and economic security. Other needs such as reproduction and sex can also be met by sperm donors or prostitution. However, not everyone accepts the functionalist view of the family and its role. They say that Functionalism ignores conflict and exploitation within society. Feminists see the family as being patriarchal and serving the needs of men and Marxists see the family as meeting the needs of capitalism and not the needs of the family members. Marxists see capitalist society as being based upon conflict between the capitalist class and the working class. They see the function of the family therefore benefitting the capitalist system. This contrasts sharply with the view of functionalists who believe that the family benefits the family members and society. Marxist and Feminist sociologists have criticised Murdock’s theory. Marxists argue that the...
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