Families could be described as one of the most basic forms of social organisation. Look almost anywhere in the world and you will find some form of family unit. This has happened arguably through reproduction, humans have drives and sexual needs which result in the creation of a new life, which to begin with, is completely helpless and dependant for a long period of time. The family is almost universal; the only exception to this would be communes.
Functionalists agree that the family is a primary social organisation and that it does serve the purpose of integrating further generations into society with cultural values and norms. Functionalists believe that the family carry out the role of socialisation, which is the backbone of most societies. This leads to an efficient economy and social order. Functionalists say that the family satisfies the basic physical and emotional needs of humans. Murdock (1949) claimed that the family performs four basic functions in all societies; sexual, reproductive, educational, and economic. He believed that no other institution matches the efficiency of the nuclear family and therefore contributes to its universality. Talcott Parsons argued that primary socialisation of children and the stabilization of the adult personalities were common to the family in all societies, not just American. There are criticisms of the functionalists view on the family. Functionalism ignores alternative family structures, and ignores functional alternatives to the family. Further to this Marxist, Feminists, and Post Modern Sociologists do not accept that the family performs particular functions on its own in isolation of other institutions.
Marxists say that the family is a major prop for the capitalist economy. They believe that women reproduce future generations of workers alongside providing unpaid domestic labour. Women are very much seen as servants to capitalism. Traditionally they stay at home and encourage children to study and enter employment. Further to this families are the central units of consumption in modern societies. We buy houses, cars, material possessions, and holidays. Zaretsky (1976) argues that in modern capitalist society the family creates the illusion that the private life of the family can be separated from other aspects of life like economy. He believed that the family cannot provide for the psychological and personal needs of individuals. It cushions the effects of capitalism on individuals while perpetuating the system. However this cannot compensate for the general alienation and lack of fulfilment produced by capitalism.
Modern Marxist accounts of the family emphasise not only its structural features, but also its function in socialising children into the ideology of society. Marxists believe that this is simply a way of continuing the narrow standards of capitalism. Where functionalists like Murdock and Parsons see this socialisation process in the family as a healthy adjustment to the surrounding social relationships, the Marxist tends to see it as the manipulation of the child’s personality to ensure that it remains in line with the social and economic system. The family is both the institutional and psychological model for social organisation associated with an unequal distribution of wealth and power and the domination of one section of society by another. Marxism offers an explanation for the exploitation of women by men. This is that the family affords opportunities for men to compensate for their real lack of power in capitalist society by exercising domination over their households and their female partners. The role of the male in the family disguises the exploitative nature of the economic system as a whole. Marxists recognise the exploitation of women in marriage and family life but emphasises the relationship between capitalism and the family rather...