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Functionalism Essay

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Topics: Sociology
Functionalism
Functionalism is a theory which views society as being a system of connected parts, and they compare society to the human body. They see the body as society, and the body parts as institutions within society, with the family being one of these, and that it if any of the parts fail then, just like the human body, society will stop working.
In 1949, George Murdock carried out a study on 250 families. From his analysis, he argued that the family performs four basic functions for the individual members of the family and society at large. He referred to these as ‘sexual’, ‘reproductive’, ‘economic’ and ‘educational’ functions. The sexual function refers to a ‘stable sexual relationship between two adults’ and the regulation of sexual activity. Husbands and wives would have sexual access to each other, and in all societies there are norms concerning sexual activity outside marriage. Murdock argued that the family caters to all of the sexual needs of its adult members and limits sexual access of other member of society, which therefore maintains stability. The reproductive function relates to raising children. The family provides the society with new members and assume responsibility for raising them correctly. The family is also and economic unit, with a division of work along the gender line. Murdock considers the division of labour as rewarding for wives and strengthening the bond between the husband and wife, as they are seen as doing distinct but complementary work. The educational function that Murdock refers to is also knows as socialisation. The family has the responsibility of giving the children society’s ways of life, norms and values. This function is important because without it there would be too much deviation from the norms and it could disrupt the stability of society.
Talcott Parsons also wrote about the functions of the family, he identified two main functions of the family, which were; Primary Socialisation of children and The Stabilisation of adult personalities of the population and society. Primary socialisation occurs in early childhood and the family plays an important role at this stage. Later on, other institutions like school and peers influence this. During the primary socialisation, two important tasks are achieved by the family. Firstly, the family must transmit the culture of society to the children, the child must not only learn the norms and values of the society they live in, but should make the values a part of the child. Parsons also argues that the family has the function of stabilising the personality of its adult members. By this, he means that the family life provides adults with emotional security that they need.
A criticism of functionalism, especially within these two studies, is that they were done a very long time ago, with Parsons being done in 1959, and Murdock’s in 1949, meaning that they are outdated and that a lot of views and other things have changed in that time. Some people have also argued that the functionalist view makes people too complacent and relaxed, and that they won’t strive for any change in society themselves.

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