Functionalism is a sociological approach that sees the institutions of society – which are sometimes likened to the human body, as the institutions, such as the police, hospitals, etc, work in union and they make specific contributions to the smooth running of society.
Talcott Parsons (1902 – 1979) Parsons contributed to the development of functionalism, as he saw society as a system made up of linking establishments which played a role in the smooth running and continuity. He also said that the main role of an institution was for individuals to socialise and make sure that they knew the underlying values of their society and behaved in acceptable ways, and that there was order in society. When Parsons wrote about the American society, he argued that the family had two basic and irreducible functions:
•The primary socialisation of children •The stabilisations of adult personalities – in complex, stressful and demanding world family provided warmth and emotional security, especially as Parsons saw it, for the male breadwinner.
Functions of the family George Murdock (1897 – 1958) did a classic study of the family in 1949, where he examined over 250 societies, of which ranged from a small hunter gatherer community to large industrial societies, and he found a form of family in each of the families he studies. He claimed that all of the families that he included in his study had four functions:
•Sexual function •Reproductive function •Socialisation function •Economic function
Criticism of the functionalist approach The criticisms of the functionalist approach are that it doesn’t address areas of conflict, and it emphasizes a consensus and agreement and paint a rosy picture of the situation. Institutions have a clear, positive function and cooperate effectively for the good of all. Also, it does not reflect many people’s experiences of the modern world, and there are often clear winners and losers. Another criticism of the functionalist approach is that is based on the idea that in all societies, the members share some basic values and beliefs, and this consensus underpins the socialization process and the working of the main institutions. To add, researchers have not been able to find that common values are in fact shared in modern societies.
Functionalist are clear in stating that the way we behave is a direct result of the socialization process and how little our behavior is the result of our personal choices. They also believe that we are largely programmed to behave in certain ways. The interactionist model provides an alternative to this view
Ultimately, the functionalists tend to present an image of a socialization process that does not fail, however, they give no distinctive explanation of deviant behavior, especially the extreme forms of deviance found in crime, delinquency and abuse, of which, destabilise society as a whole.
Marxism Marxism works on the political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-1883). He focused on the conflict and struggle within social class, and that the behaviour of individuals was shaped based on society and that the economic system defined society and the placement people have in it.
There are two social classes, according to Marx; The Bourgeoisie (or Capitalists) are the powerful people in society and they own factories and other employment establishments. The Proletariat, of who are a much larger, poorer group of workers, these people work for the bourgeoisie (employees) Marx’s view on these is that there will always be a conflict between the two. As the owners of the factories want more land and higher profits, whereas the employees want higher wages for the extensive work in which the bourgeoisie are demanding. Due to this conflict, Marx theorised that it would eventually end in a revolution because of the unequal relationship in the economic system. He also argued that that the ruling class control and power in other social systems thus moulding society in a way in which they desire, through control of the mass media and the legal and the curriculum in school are mainly influenced by the ideas of the bourgeoisie.
Through socialisation, the attitudes and values of the ruling class are eventually passed on, rather than the common value system of the Proletariat. This is so much of a success because the majority of the Proletariat do not realise that the bourgeoisie are exploiting them or that they inevitably serve the needs of the bourgeoisie.
False Consciousness A false consciousness is that the proletariat do not realise that it is happening and they are not aware of the situations in which they are being exploited in, this can explain why conflicting interests rarely end in a revolution. Similarly to the Functionalist, Marxists see the family as a provider and that they give a stable structure in which society needs them to become somewhat of a servant of the social system.
The Family Contextually, the family provides socialisation for children, so they can eventually be prepared for the trials and tribulations of the ‘outside world’. And because children have a lack of power within the family unit, it prepares them to be obedient when consulting with bosses, or those of a higher position, as adults. The family also provide a secure emotional base, so that workers can refresh then rejoin co-workers to make profits for their employers.
Criticisms of the Marxist approach Marxist believe that individual behaviour is directly resulted from socialisation, which gives them very little choice, also there is a lot of emphasis on class interests and the areas in which there could be conflict. Over the last 100 years, the standard of living has increased immensely, as we no longer live in industrialised society, but to an extent some of this may exist, and the bourgeoisie and proletariat share the common interest that they all benefit from a successful company. Some people believe that the Marxist model does not give sufficient emphasis to the power of other institutions, such as religion, race, and family life, which mould our behaviour.
Child labour in the nineteenth century ‘Children of the poorer class worked from a very early age…Conditions in the factories were bad and the working day was at least 14 hours. Accidents were common and discipline very strict. Some factories operated the machines day and night, so that one shift of children used the beds vacated by the next shift…the work people were often responsible for recruiting and disciplining juvenile workers.’
Source: Clifford Lines (1990) Companion to the Industrial Revolution Facts on File Ltd (Oxford) Child labour was a central part of life in the nineteenth century, as children from poor families would have to contribute an amount of money towards buying food, etc, and if they had no sole breadwinner due to death or abandonment, then they would have to work an extreme amount of hours, for example, many of the children were employed to crawl through coal mines, as the gaps between the rocks were too small for the adults to fit through. They were also employed as apprentices to respectable trades, like building or domesticity, for example, and for builders they would have varying hours depending on the time of year; 64 hours per week in the summer and 52 hours per week in the winter. The majority of the children would only get around 10-20% of the wages an adult would get.
Feminism Feminism is the social, political and economic of the sexes, and it is women who argue these points, and they seek equal opportunities for women in education and employment, and to put an end to sexist theory and social oppression. The main goal set by Feminists, is that the position of women in society is understood and improving women’s position in society is their sole purpose. There are three main Feminist perspectives:
•Liberal feminism •Radical feminism •Socialist/Marxist feminism
The argument that feminists propose is that sociology – in academia – is a discipline developed and controlled by men, rendering the term “Malestream” being used within sociology. Pamela Abbott and Claire Wallace (1997) summarised feminist concerns and criticisms of the “Malestream” society. They argued that the male dominance has produced biased descriptions and analysis in which women’s unequal position in society hasn’t had enough attention drawn to it.
Marxist feminist Marxist feminists see women as being oppressed, especially working class women, from the patriarchal society (men) and capitalism. Also women produce the next generation of workers, which benefits the Marxist research, and they meet the physical, emotional and social needs of their children, so that they are prepared to work in factories in the future. Marxist feminist also support their husbands and partners, cook and clean for the house, and they do this without receiving any money, additionally, they are dominated by their husbands. However, it is argued that with the primary responsibilities of the household being taken on by the woman, the family would not be ready for work without them.
Radical Feminism Radical feminists believe that capitalism isn’t the dominant force behind the control of woman, it is men that control women and the family is a patriarchal institution. They also see that the socialisation of women in regards to being mothers and housewives is much oppressed, and this form of oppression is a main characteristic of a nuclear family.
Liberal Feminism Liberal feminists argue that changes have taken place in regards to the progression of the way women are treated. Through the legislation of the Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the attitudes of people in society, there is more equality between men and women. By the way of policies and legislation, Liberal Feminists believe that improvements will continue through these means.
Criticisms of the Feminist approach The majority of the criticisms of the feminist approach come from internal critique, which means that the Feminists and the writers that are involved within the same broad perspective.
Interactionism (Social Action approach) Interactionalists focus on smaller groups, rather than large institutions, and they see how they influence our behaviour as individuals and how it shapes society. Because Interactionalists are interested in small groups, this is called ‘micro-level’, and they prefer small scale interactions of individuals with some social context. For example, the types of groups they may study could be teenage gangs, staff, patients at a hospital, etc.
They do not believe that the socialisation process programmes us as individuals, however it does to an extent, but we, as individuals have the power to choose how we behave and to create our own roles, social structure as a whole holds no interest for Interactionalists.
They also see our behaviour as being driven by how we interpret certain situations, such as how others see us and how other see us.
The Family A mother for example will understand what is expected to be a “good mother” however social action theorists believe that there are no specific guidelines. Interactionalists believe that a mother will interpret what it means specifically for them regarding context of her family, specifically in links with society and relationships with her child(ren).
Criticisms of the Interactionalists approach Even though they emphasis individuals choice that they accept that social roles exist even if they are not that clearly defined, also they do not pay that much attention on power roles within society. To add, Interactionalists do not explain where social roles come from and why people behave in predictable ways.
Interactionalism keeps other variables out because they describe social behaviour as being ‘in a vacuum’. The way that they describe behaviour in gangs or the relationship between staff and patients in a hospital, does not elaborate on the wider social and/or historical factors that have influenced this and defined or caused the situation.
Postmodernism Because in today’s society nothing stays the same, so therefore we cannot talk about established institutions such as religion and family, etc. The typical family also poses variations because of the domestic arrangements, postmodernists have the theory that theorist such as Marxism and Functionalism doesn’t help to understand society now. Some social institutions have become fragmented over the course of years, and thus making individuals and groups in charge of their own choices, for example, leisure activities, lifestyle decisions and consumer goods that are available to them.
Functionalist approach to health and ill health Functionalists believe that ill health can disrupt the smooth flowing of society, because of things such as dependency, apathy and incapacity, and that sickness is a form of deviance or failure that needs to be controlled. The way that functionalists regulate this deviance or sickness, is through the mechanism of the ‘sick role’ concept and the ‘social control’ that doctors take the role of when an individual takes the status of becoming sick.
Marxist approach to health and ill health Marxists see that the most basic necessities, for example, food, shelter, etc, are material productions and they are seen as the most important activities. This type of production can take place within a substance or a modern economy, and entails organisation and the use of tools (which is pegged as the “forces of production”. The orientation of this approach is applied medically within sociology and it leans towards the origins of disease, as the health outcomes are seen to be influenced by the economic and capitalist operations at two levels. Industrial diseases, injuries, and stress related ill-health are the problems faced at the first level of the production, and the production process creates environmental pollution. Secondly, health is influenced at the level of distribution and the rate of income and initial wealth are major determinants of people’s standard of living and where they live; this can then give those options on health care, education, diet and recreational opportunities.