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Sociological Perspectives on Family

Family is the building block of society. It is the most basic social group in any society. How members in one family relate to each other affects their lives, their work, and their friends. Groups of families that interact with each other, relate to each other and work together build a larger society. A family in sociology is a group of people who are legally, biologically, and/or emotionally tied. The model of a family we see most often is the nuclear family which constitutes a married heterosexual couple living together with their children; usually, the mom is attending for the kids’ needs and the household and the father is the bread-winner, providing food and money for the family.

Furthermore, a family in sociology is an institution that gets support from other social institutions as schools for education, government for social services and welfare, and factories for work and production. It might be fair enough to say that stable and well-raised families can build a cooperative and productive society!

Family is seen differently from the three different sociological perspectives.

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The structural-functionalist perspective tries to identify its function for society. Structural functionalism has a key point that revolves around a unified stable whole system that is made of orderly functioning structures that contribute to the stability and equilibrium of the society as a whole. One of the advantages of functionalism is its inclusion of all social institutions, of which family is one; in an attempt to provide a universal social theory that explains society in one comprehensive model.

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Therefore, the family is viewed by functionalists as a social institution that contributes to social order. It is also found to be responsible for the reproduction of society as it produces and socializes children who will in turn become future workers and produce and socialize more new members of society, whereby the values and norms of the society are passed on to the next generation. Family is also seen as a source of emotional support for its members (spouses and siblings) and is found to regulate sexual activity and reproduction. Family is also found by functionalists to provide its members with a social identity.

These functions of the family structure help society patterns run smoothly and maintain stability and order. Any dysfunction of its structures will cause a change and a new equilibrium. Different problems in families may arise from changes in the family structures or functions; which will have a negative impact on the family and the society. For example, if families fail to discipline children, then schools, churches, and courts will have to make changes to fix the failure and/or deal with the consequences; this in turn will have an impact on society. A functionalist may need to ask questions when looking at a family. These questions may include asking about what the structure is { the family) and what the function of the family ( the structure) is in society, how it maintains a good stable function, what would cause dysfunction of family, how to prevent it, and how it will affect the society in terms of its stability and unity, and how it could be fixed.

Conflict theory is another perspective in sociology that looks at the family from a different angle. Its key point is that inequality and conflict over power is what drives any society. In any family, these inequalities can be seen between families in society and among members of the same family. Such inequalities could be a reason for conflict and struggle over resources to gain power and influence. Conflict theory stands in contrast to structural functionalism theory. It argues that the presence of social arrangements does not necessarily mean that it is beneficial, rather it represents the interests of those in power. When focusing on the tension and conflict in a society, the conflict theory may miss parts of the society that are truly orderly and stable. When considering a family, the conflict theorist would consider the unequal distribution of responsibilities between men and women. In many cultures, men tend to have one responsibility which working outside the house to provide for the family, while the wives tend to have an inside-the-house job of raising children and doing housework as well as an outside job. In addition, men usually get paid a higher salary than women working the same job.

Although these women spend the same amount of time working outside the house as their husbands, they are still responsible for their duties inside the house and are underappreciated for the amount of work and effort they put into those duties, in terms of pay and support both physical and emotional. This is very true in so many cultures, in addition to the fact that in some cultures men tend to have more power in their household and their society as well. Furthermore, domestic violence and emotional abuse are some types of conflict among family members that has been seen lately at an increased rate in so many cultures. Conflict theorists may want to ask about where the power is, what the inequalities are in a family, what the resources are, who the competitors are, who the winner is, and what the prize/benefit is to view the family from their perspective.

Symbolic interactionism is the third social perspective on family. As the name suggests it focuses on the connection between symbols (i.e. shared meanings) and interactions (i.e. verbal and nonverbal actions) and communications. It is about understanding how humans create symbolic worlds and how those symbolic worlds shape human behavior. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes on families as social groups and on individuals to develop a concept of self and identity through social interaction and family activities. It helps understand the different types of personalities and the way they interact with each other to build and maintain social order, and how any change in this interaction can lead to disruption in that social order or at least a change in that order. It focuses on how self and society develop through interaction with others and helps explain and analyze many social issues as inequalities and dynamics of families. Thus, symbolic interactionists focus on interpersonal relationships between family members and emphasize the means to maintain them.

For example, the legal meaning of marriage as a bond is technically the same for everyone; however, the expectations and rules for behavior in marriage differs among individuals and couples. It is expected of family members to care for each other and express that care. With the term, family come obligations, rights, and sentiments. In other words, the interactionist will need to ask about the roles of men and women in a family and what they do to express their caring to each other. They may need to ask about how the siblings interact with each other and if there are any jealousy issues for example. They might be interested in violence in a household whether between the couple or among the children. They may ask how they share responsibilities and express their need for each other’s help. They may question about means of communication and ways of resolving conflicts among family members.

Each of these theories provides useful insights into our understanding of family units. I believe we need all of these perspectives when we look at the family, to be able to have a better understanding of the family. We will need to know about it from a functionalist perspective as a structure and what its function is in the society, and how any dysfunction can ultimately affect the society’s order and unity. Then we need the conflict theorists’ perspective to know about the inequalities, competition, and struggles the family faces on daily basis among its members and in a given society. Any violence in the family or emotional struggles, as well as unequal work burdens and responsibilities, may help us find causes for dysfunction in society and thus help fix any in equilibrium in that matter. Last, we need the interactionist perspective to see the family on the level of the individual interaction and see how the relationship between individuals in a family can affect the family as a structure and thus affects its function and how that is influenced by the competition over power and resources. The three perspectives are like looking at the same picture from different angles. We can’t really see the big picture unless we can see all the details from different angles. To me, those different angles are the three sociological perspectives of family.

Works Cited

Barkan, L. (2012). A Primer on Social Problems. 1st ed. [ebook] pp.1301. Available at:
Ferris, K., & Stein, J. (2018). The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton.
LaRossa R., Reitzes D.C. (2009) Symbolic Interactionism and Family Studies. In: Boss P., Doherty W. J., LaRossa R., Schumm W.R., Steinmetz S.K. (eds) Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods. Springer, Boston, MA

Cite this page

Sociological Perspectives on Family. (2020, Sep 08). Retrieved from

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