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The Functionalist’s View of The Family in Society

Functionalism is a structuralist theory; this meaning that it sees social structure (the social organisation of society) as more important than individuals.

Functionalism is a structuralist theory; this meaning that it sees social structure (the social organisation of society) as more important than individuals. This means it is a “top-down” theory that looks at society rather than the individuals included in it. In functionalism society is considered more important because an individual is produced by the society and because, people are the product of the social influences upon them: their family, friends, educational background and their exposure to the media. But I am focusing on what functionalists see the family’s role to be and how they define it.

Across the world family life is characterised by tremendous variation and diversity. But in the UK and according to functionalists it should be a group of people sharing a common residence and be of 2 generations. A famous sociologist George Peter Murdock (1949) defines the family as: “ a social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It should consist of adults of both sexes with at least two who maintain a socially approved relationship, which has created one or more children of their own. Therefore Murdock’s definition is based on the nuclear family – a stereotypical two-generation family made up of a heterosexual couple with dependent offspring. This definition was popular with right-wing sociologists who suggested that this is the ideal type of family to which people should aspire.

Functionalists also assume that the family is a positive and beneficial institution in which family members receive nurturing, care and unconditional love. This, of course, is not always true when it comes to domestic violence, divorce and child abuse. Stanko (2000) completed a survey on domestic violence and it was found that one incident is reported by a woman to the police every minute. All those couples and families who were nuclear families or had potential to be were being ruined each day, proving that the functionalist view of a beneficial family was very overestimated. Divorce can also break up families and make them an unhappy time. When couples do not love each other anymore they often live in empty-shell marriages where they stay together because of religion or for the sake of their children. These marriages are often unhappy for the whole family and cause arguments, which eventually end in divorce or separation. Child abuse has also been rediscovered in recent years and the NSPCC often points that at least one child will die each week due to adult cruelty. This causes harm and stress to the family and can lead to unhappy marriages, high stress levels and divorce of what should be happy nuclear families.

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User Comments
  1. rutherfranc

    On April 1, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    greatly researched and expressed article.. never saw articles like this before..

  2. Cleo

    On December 3, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    very very well researched and put together. I have a better undertanding from this perspective

  3. taniele johnson

    On January 27, 2010 at 2:32 am

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  4. abduljabar

    On October 9, 2010 at 5:52 am

    Am a student who just understood that whole theory by jst reading dis!!

  5. Tashna-Gay Matthews

    On January 30, 2013 at 8:50 pm

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