The family was once described as a social group that shared common residence, consisted of at least two adults of each sex that maintained a socially approved sexual relationship and had one or more children, their own or adopted. This is a nuclear family, described by George Murdoch to be a universal family type. Although it is correct to say that nuclear families reside universally, family types now vary from single-parent families to gay headed families. Despite the variety, they contribute to the society, in ways that can be positive and negative too.
Many sociologists differ in their views as to whether the family is positive to the society or not- functionalists believe that the family has positive functions that contribute positively to the society but it has to be said that functionalists tend to ignore negative aspects of the family such as the ‘dark side’, which consists of all that makes the family a negative experience for its members. Nevertheless there are sociologists that focus on only the negative aspects, such as, radical psychiatrists, radical feminists and Marxists. The new right theory has faith that family is a positive function of the society, however new rights only refer to nuclear families, as they believe that any other family type is inferior.
Functionalism is a consensus theory which looks at society positively. Functionalists often make an organic analogy, as a human body is maintained by the functions of each part of a body, keeping it alive and healthy, similarly, and society is kept going by its institutions- family being one of the institutions which function to sustain the well-being of society. It is recognised by functionalists that families change themselves over time for the sake of adapting to society, an exemplar would be leading functionalist Emile Durkheim who strongly believed that family was the most important institution of society. Durkheim believed that family positively functioned for both individuals and society. The family, he believed, is the institution that offers its members emotional support, stability and gives them their identity as primary socialisers, and to an extent, teaches them how they should act toward the rest of society.
Thus he proves that they perform a positive function to society too, as they provide fundamental social order and stability, which helps to prevent the society from becoming disordered. Talcott Parson’s was a functionalist who analysed the families from a modern perspective and came to a conclusion that although families have less functions, as they are provided with help from outside agencies, they still perform two important functions which determine the actions within a society. These two functions focus on individuals- the first being the socialisation of children primarily, into the responsible, committed individuals that society can benefit from and the second is the stabilisation of adult personalities, as he stated that it was family who help ease away tensions of the modern world, particularly for male workers.
He also believed that these functions were best found in nuclear families, where the clear sexual division in labour enabled wives to partake an expressive role while men held an instrumental role. However, there are functionalists like Fletcher who believe that family has not decreased their functions, he explains how the family do not just perform the apparent obvious functions of primary socialisation, social control and reproduction but they also play a role in providing basic education and support through school life and they still have an economic function because they provide support to their non-working members, whether they are un-fit to work, ill or unemployed and ultimately, family supplies the whole economy with workers.
The functionalism theory sheds light on the positive aspects of family life which all contribute to the society positively. Each functionalist has consistently mentioned a vital performance that families partake- the primary socialisation of children. During this stage a child learns about his/her culture and is most likely to be taught the norms and values of their society. Primary socialisation is a vital performance which is done by the family, as a child is expected to have acknowledgement of the norms and values in order to adjust with the society they live in.
Although the functionalist theory does not look at the negative aspects of the family there are others that do. It can only be assumed that the functionalist view was patriarchal- the belief that men are dominate. This assumption is only representative of Parson as he introduced the warm bath theory, whereby he suggested that it was men that had a hard day at work and their wives (women) stayed at home and made them feel better when the husbands came home. Radical feminists are those who focus on this discrimination and have firm belief that the world is wrongly dominated by men. They believe that patriarchal ideology gives women a perception that motherhood is their natural role whereas it actually keeps women subservient to men. They express how women have at least a dual role but most have a ‘triple burden’ which consists of the roles of a paid worker, a mother and a housewife. The Marxist theory characterises the society as being one that exploits and subordinates the working class.
They argue that the family only benefits capitalists as they produce the working class, teach their children to accept capitalist values when primarily socialising them, which are to hard work, accepting and respecting authority, and it is the family that makes their members feel that capitalism is the norm. Radical psychiatrists on the other hand, argue that the family as a whole is a deception. Clinical evidence proves that families suffer exploitation, oppression and a negative experience. The modern family is so ‘independent’ that it leads to emotional stress between the members. They disagree with functionalists and say that families actually spend too much time trying to please others by doing what they are expected to do, which prevents them from having autonomy. Thus if someone did something wrong it would lead to shame, guilt and repression. This leads to the’ dark side’ to a family which includes abuse to children and domestic violence to both men and women.
Child abuse consists of, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. A CPS report showed that five to six children died each day in 2001 due to child abuse or neglect. Approximately 84% of the children were abused by their parents and mothers alone were responsible for 47% of the neglect and 32% of the abuse. Domestic violence is also increasing the UK’s crime rate and accounts for a quarter of the murders in the UK. Domestic violence is all the violence that occurs between partners. Not only does it account for physical violence but sexual and emotional abuse too.
Although it is considered a crime against women because they are twice as likely to be threatened and injured, men are also violated against- a study conducted at the Leicester Infirmary in 1992 concluded that equal numbers of men and women were being assaulted at home and that men received more serious injuries, losing consciousness more often than women. It may be so that the family as individuals may be affected more if they suffer these negative experiences however, it may also affect the society because one’s participation to society will become effortless regardless of the way they contribute, for examples if they are a student, they will not work hard, if they are a worker, they will be less. Nevertheless there are 400 refuges around the UK and any help lines to support those that are suffering.
There are different views of the family that that highlight how they function in society and towards individuals. Functionalism is the main theory that promotes the positive aspects of a family and reflects the positive contributions a family makes towards society by performing essential functions such as reproduction, primary socialisation and social control. There are also many theories that focus on the negative aspects of the family- the things that make family a bad function of society. However, it has to be said that all the theory’s are correct if read from the perspective that they are written in. Thus, although the family does have a ‘dark side’ and may not comply with all theorists, such as radical psychiatrists and radical feminists, they still manage to uphold the main functions, that is to reproduce, socialise with individuals and support their family members.
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