Outline and evaluate the functionalist view of the role of the family in society. 33 marks - 25 minutes.
A family is a kinship - people related by blood or marriage. Functionalism is a macro theory which means it looks at a wider sociological view. It focuses on the importance of the nuclear family (mother and father married with children), the universality of the family, changing roles and how the nuclear family “fits” into modern society. The theory of “fit” is argued by Parsons, where he believes that the dominant structure of the family best suits the needs of the economy at the time. This means that the nuclear family “fits” into an industrial economy because they are geographically mobile and not reliant on wider kin. By this Parsons means that family members can easily move to new centres of production. Parson concludes that only the nuclear family could provide the achievement orientated 2quired by modern economies.
However according to Wilmott and Young, the pre-industrial family tended to be nuclear, not extended as claimed by Parsons with parents and children working together in cottage industries such as weaving. They also argue that the hardship of these early industrialised periods gave rise to the mother centred working class extended family, based on ties between mothers and their married daughters who relied on each other for financial, practical and emotional support.
Similarly, Hareven concludes that the extended family, not the nuclear family as Parsons said, was the structure best equipped to meet the needs of early industrial society. Her research showed how extended migrant families in America in the 19th Century acted as a source of support and mutual aid, as well as promoting geographical mobility by helping newcomers to find work. This outlines the functionalist view of the role of family in society and is evaluated by the views of other sociologists.
Functionalist theories are based on how the nuclear family performs...
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