Sociology is the subject which looks at the social world around us, how the social world works and how it effects and influences our daily lives. People tend to accept the social arrangements in which they grew up as normal or too complicated to understand. The family is the natural way to bring up children and schools are the normal places for children to learn. For most people the social world is just there, challenging their lives, they cannot change it and it is not really worth while trying to understand it. There is a consequence of that argument, which is when people try to understand their place in society, rich or poor, isolated or popular; they usually do so by saying it is their personal abilities, weaknesses and situations that cause them to be as they are. Sociologists do not fully agree with this, they regard it as their job to understand society and the way it affects different people.
They do this by using certain concepts such as, values, beliefs, norms and identity, they also look at different theories, which are explanations that link together social events and show how the social events have different effects on different people. Within this essay the writer will be looking at functionalism, feminism and Marxism and how the different aspects affect people and how they impact on the family and household. Family and household are two different things, a household simply means one or more person living in the same home, where as a family typically means a group of people related by ceremonial and or blood ties, living together or in frequent contact. (Moore, 2001)
The functionalist perspective is one of the main theoretical perspectives within sociology. It has its origins in the likes of Emile Durkheim, who was especially interested in how social order is possible and how it remains relatively stable. Functionalism was the dominant branch of western sociology until the 1960s, since when it has been increasingly criticised by sociologists, favouring different sociological perspectives.
Functionalists argue that “societies consist of inter-related social institutions such as schools, mass media, political systems and the family each of which contribute positively to the maintenance of stability of society as a whole.” (earlyhamsociologypages.co.uk, 2011) These institutions are said to be functional for societies as a whole. Broadly speaking it is assumed by functionalists that societies operate in the interests of all of their members so that there is no reason for fundamental conflict in society. Instead there is a high degree of consensus that societies are organised efficiently and relatively fairly.
Functionalists believe every institution in society contributes to the smooth running of society as a whole. To functionalists the family is at the heart of the family. Murdock claimed that “the nuclear family is so useful to society that it is inevitable and universal, appearing everywhere” (historylearningsite.com, 2012). Murdock claimed that he had found evidence of nuclear families in the 250 societies he studied. The family is universal because it fulfils essential functions for the family, such as sexual, which controls sexuality and provides stability for adults, reproduction, which provides new members of society, economical, the family provides for its members and education, the family socialises the young into society’s norms and values.
They are essential for social life since without the sexual and reproductive functions there would be no members of society, without the economic function (for example, the provision and preparation of food) life would cease, and without education a term Murdock uses for socialization there would be no culture. Human society without culture could not function. (historylearningsite.com, 2012).parsons states there are two irreducible functions of the family, these functions are primary socialisation, through which children learn to accept the norms and values of society and the stabilisation of adult personalities, the family gives adults the emotional support necessary to cope with everyday life. (Moore, 2001)
The functionalist view suggests that the nuclear family has become socially isolated from extended family and geographically separated from wider family and more reliant on the welfare state. The family is self-contained, inward looking with little contact with neighbours and community, home leisure’s have made the family more home centred. Functionalists have been accused of idolising the family; they ignore conflict, abuse and gender equality within families and the ever growing divorce rates and family diversity. Feminists have been highly critical of the highly positive view of the family presented by Functionalists and the more critical view presented by Marxists.
The reason for this scepticism boils down to one key concept: patriarchy. Patriarchy refers to a system of male dominance. Historian and activist Cheris Kramaroe once famously remarked that” feminism is the radical notion that woman are human beings” (Head, 2012). Feminism is about woman living on equal terms with men and not being pushed down by law or culture into a lower role within society. Feminists believe that the family is patriarchal, dominated by men and it exploits and oppresses women. The family supports and reproduces inequalities between men and woman, woman are Oppressed because their socialised to be dependent on men and remain second place. They reject the new rights view of the separate roles and also reject the march of progress view, in that society has not changed and it is still unequal. Feminists believe that marriage remains patriarchal and that men benefit from wives, they reject the functionalist view of one best family type, and they welcome freedom and diversity. (Anderson, 2008).
Critics argue that there is too much focus on negative aspects and that feminists sometimes ignore recent social changes. Critics claim that feminists portray woman as passive victims as if they are unable to act against discrimination. The same critics believe that feminists focus on one specific group and ignore woman in families from other cultures and ethnicities Marxist Feminists argue that within capitalist societies the nuclear family is part of the overall structure of capitalism and that its organisation and functions are heavily influenced by the nature of the capitalist economic base which means that women’s oppression derives primarily from the organisation of the capitalist system rather than from the patriarchal behaviour of men.
According to Marxist Feminists housewives fulfil several important functions for the capitalist system: they bear and rear children at no cost to the capitalist system and, along with their husbands, encourage their children to accept authority such that a new, suitably obedient generation of workers becomes available; housewives also provide many domestic services at low or zero cost which reduces the wage levels which the capitalist system needs to pay its male workers. Women also form part of the reserve army of labour which is available for employment during times of economic boom but which can return to the traditional housewife- mother role during economic recession.
Marxist feminists also believe women provide emotional support for their husbands/partners without this they would be unable to face the oppression and alienation of the capitalist workplace. Without this emotional support it is also possible that workers would be more prepared to challenge the capitalist system. However, family responsibilities may also dissuade workers from strike activity and the existence of families with its demands for cars, washing machines and other consumer durables also helps to maintain spending and capitalist profits. The socialisation process which operates within the family both stabilises the capitalist system as a whole and also by discouraging female career aspirations, restricts female career opportunities. (Head, 2012).
Marxists shares some similarities with feminism, it argues that society is unequal and that it is characterised by oppression, however, Marxists believe that the oppression is of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. Marxism is a conflict theory which sees all societies’ institutions, such as the education system, the media, religion and the state as helping to maintain class equality and capitalism for Marxists, therefore, “the functions of the family are performed solely for the benefit of the capitalist system” (sociogeeks.com, 2011). Marxists believe that the family aids capitalism by being a big consumer of goods, which they have to pay for, as long as the family are around, people will keep buying the products and the bourgeoisie will continue to make money. (earlyhamsociologypages.co.uk, 2011)Marxists also believe that woman staying at home looking after the children are producing the next generation of the proletariat.
This means that more people will be created to fill the jobs of the retiring proletariat. Marxists believe that the family cushions the main producer, this is similar to the functionalist perspective where after a hard day at work, the main provider, usually the male, will be comforted by his family, they are there to relieve the pressures so he can return to work the next day less stressed than when he left the day before. This allows the bourgeoisie to have a worker in the next day and to have a guaranteed work force. Marxists believe that family is a strong influence on education and is considered the primary socialisation, this is beneficial for the bourgeoisie because the family and education system will teach the norms and values, which are that the society they are living in is correct. (Moore, 2001)
Education makes the proletariat believe in the benefits of capitalism and will make the children believe in the myth of meritocracy. Feminists argue that the Marxist emphasises on social class and capitalism underestimates the importance of gender inequalities within the family, for feminists, the family primarily serves the interests of men rather capitalism. Functionalists argue that Marxists ignore the very real benefits that the family provide for its members, such as intimacy and mutual support.
Others feel that Marxists tend to neglect the meanings families have for individuals and how family members interpret family relationships. (Head, 2012) In conclusion Functionalists see society as similar to a human body. Each part of the human body relies on different organs in order to function correctly. According to functionalists society operates in exactly the same way because it relies on different social institutions such as the family, schools, and the government working
together to keep the social body working properly. In contrast Marxists see society as operating solely to make a profit for the ruling class. The proletariat are socially engineered to conform to the needs of a ruling class who benefit the most from societies using a capitalist economic system. Therefore schools and the family exist solely to provide a compliant labour force who will willingly serve the needs of capitalism. On the other hand feminists see society as operating in order to meet the needs and wishes of men (patriarchy). Patriarchal societies are engineered to meet the desires and needs of men through institutions like the family and the education system. On this basis feminists say women are second-class citizens.
Anderson, M. L., 2008. Sociology. In: J. Cheng, ed. understanding a diverse society. USA: Thompson Wadsword, pp. 308-312. earlyhamsociologypages.co.uk, 2011. early ham sociology pages. [Online] Available at: www.earlhamsociologypages.co.uk
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