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Functionalist View of the Family - Sociology - functionalist emile durkheim viewed society

Functionalist View of the Family - Sociology-functionalist emile durkheim viewed society

Functionalist View of the Family
Functionalist View of the Family
Functionalist view of the family/2/2/98/P.Covington/Yellow 1995 Family Disc
My family is my hobby respondent from Goldthorpe's study of Luton Car workers, 1968
Important Writers
Tallcott Parsons
George Peter Murdock
Herbert Spencer
Emile Durkheim
Ronald Fletcher
William J.Goode
Some Conclusions on the issue of is the Family Universal
As we can see from our examples there is evidence to suggest that some
societies have very different arrangements for carrying out the role of family.
Certainly, many societies have the nuclear family as the most common grouping.
Yet even, here what is considered normal in one society is considered deviant in
There is evidence to such that organizations that are arguably not families are
capable of performing the family's functions. Perhaps the best example is the
Many sociologists now consider the whole question of whether the family is
universal as a non-issue. What is more important is to explore the diversity of
families. From this perspective the family is socially created, it is not simply a
natural unit created by biological necessities. Rather it is influenced by social
factors, the cultural norms of society, the prevailing economic system, and even
the particular family in what point it has reached in its life cycle.
If you want to see further examples of the different types of family, Haralambos
looks in particular at the New World Black Family, which according to Murdock's
definition is not a family because it does not contain an adult of each sex. These
families tend to consist of a woman and her dependent children. They are
Whether a family is regarded as universal thus depends upon how the family is
defined. Clearly, though lots of groupings have been tried.
Functionalist View of the Family 1
Functionalist View of the Family
The Development of Functionalism
The development of the functionalist perspective in sociology has been linked with the discipline
of anthropology, which is the study of small-scale, non-industrial, tribal societies.
Since the 19th C, anthropologists have carried out detailed studies of tribes with the aim of
describing their total way of life, a method of research known as ethnography. Implicit in their
work is the idea that society can be compared to biological organisms such as the human
body. In the 20th C Functionalist sociologists in their study of industrial societies have adopted
this analogy.
Basic Ideas
Functionalists talk about society being like a human body. The organic analogy incorporates the
ideas of a system to emphasize the inter-relatedness and mutual dependency of the major
institutions of society. They therefore, see the family as changing and responding to the needs of
society. Drawing on the example of Irish families in rural areas in the 1940's, they argue that
most pre-industrial families existed in a patriarchal extended family structure. This usually meant
that the landholder dominated his wives and children; while even his adult sons and their wives
lived and deferred to him Functionalists therefore argue that the nuclear family developed as a
result of industrialization.
The following example explains this. A pebble thrown into a pond causes ripples that can affect
the whole pond as a `system'. Fish and marine life are disturbed, but after a time things settle
down and the pond reverts back to its former self. Note that the pond in its new state has not
been dramatically altered by the pebble, but it is a slightly different `system' than previously. This
point is relevant to the way that Functionalist sociologists explain change in society.
The systems approach has been used by Functionalists to explain how social change occurs in
society. Functionalists see the family as the basic and most vital institution in society, just as
one could see the heart and the brain as the most vital organs of the body. Functionalists
sociologists would say the effect of increasing numbers of working wives and mothers (the
pebble in the pond) has been to cause changes in family life (ripples). A new situation has come
about, in which activities in the home are shared so society has entered into a new stable state
(the calm pond).
Evolutionary theory is also linked to functionalism. Durkheim for example talked about society
evolved from pre-industrial societies to industrialized ones. For example...
Exercise One
If possible work in pairs. Choose another change in the family in recent times (for instance, rising
unemployment among young people and analyze this change from a Functionalist perspective).
Write up your account.
The Evolutionary Approach and the Family
Functionalist View of the Family 2
Functionalist View of the Family
Tied in with the evolutionary approach of societal development is the belief that societies'
institutions such as the family will evolve. Functionalists say that the modern nuclear family
has evolved from earlier forms and its structure is most appropriate for and beneficial for an
advanced industrial society.
This has thus been linked to the universality of the family. Studies of pre-industrial societies
show the `savagery' of the past, and the postindustrial family gives clues of what they can look
forward to.
The nuclear family has evolved, according to the Functionalist perspective because it is best
suited to an industrial society, its smallness of scale makes for ease of geographical and
social mobility, and it provides a haven for its members. It fits the needs of an advanced
industrial society, in the same way that larger extended families fitted the needs of an agricultural
What does a Functionalist Society Look Like?
Functionalists believe that society is based around the assumption that there is co-operation and
agreement and there is a tendency towards balance between the various parts of society. Functionalists
then tend to assume that the family has functions that help this occur. The family is thus studied in relation
How does the family maintain the social system? What functional pre-requisites or basic needs does it
What is the relationship of the family to other institutions? For example how does the family integrate
its members into the economic system?
What function does it perform for the individual family member?
Bell and Vogel, Nuclear Family and Social System
As I have explained in recent Functionalist handouts on culture, these thinkers see each social
institution in terms of its role within its own social subsystem (family and Kinship) and in terms of
its relationship to society as a whole.
Exercise Two
I am going to use Vogel and Bell's table from their 1960 work to illustrate this in the next exercise.
Match the following statements to the appropriate subsystem.
Polity - federation
Value systems
1. Wages
2. Conformity
3. Leadership
4. Group participation
5. Goods
6. Loyalty
7. Acceptance of standards.
8. Identity
Exercise Three
Functionalist View of the Family 3

What was Emile Durkheim wrong about? In a certain way however, Durkheim was wrong about Tardes ideas. They are, as the Wiki-Article rightly notes, experiencing a renaissance in the context of both Poststructuralist and Postmodernist thought. Guattari and Deleuze are notable here. As is the Neo-Tardism of Bruno Latour. There was an error loading more items.