Assessment of the Usefulness of Functionalism in Understanding the Family

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Assessment of the Usefulness of Functionalism in Understanding the Family

Functionalism is a structuralist theory. This means it sees the individual as less important as the social structure of society. It is a ‘top down’ theory. The family can be defined as an intimate domestic group composed of people related to each other by blood, sexual relations and legal ties. When assessing how useful functionalism is when looking at the family, other views/perspectives need to be taken into account before making an overall conclusion. Views from Talcott Parsons, George Murdock, Ann Oakley, Edmund Leach, R.D Laing, David Cooper and Friedrich Engels will be taken into account as well as perspectives
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He also does not examine alternatives to the family, not considering whether its functions could be carried out by other social institutions. Murdock is criticised for being Euro-centric, as he is only concerned about the Western families. However, he is supported by anthropologists; Morris (1968) said the family was a result of biology and culture over generations (socio-biology). This could be a strength as it shows some researchers have the same view.

Talcott Parsons bases his ideas on the family in modern American society. However, despite this his ideas have more general application since he claims the American family has two ‘basic and irreducible’ functions which are common to the family in all societies, unlike Murdock who argued there were four. These were, the primary socialization of children, where culture is learned and accepted by children so they know the norms and values that allow society to exist. Secondly the stabilization of adult personalities, which is where a marriage relationship and emotional security a couple provide for each other keeps a personality stable, and acts as a counterweight to everyday stresses and strains that can make a personality unstable. This process is otherwise known as the ‘warm bath’ theory, where the family provide a relaxing environment for the male worker to

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