According to functionalists the family has lost its functions, functionalism claim there is integration and harmony between different parts of society which rely upon each other to maintain a cooperating society. Functionalists view the family as vital organs in maintaining society, functionalism concentrates on the contribution of the family towards society and how the family fits with other social institutions to create and efficient society.
Functionalists like Murdock argues that the family has four main functions; reproduction as the family provides some stability for the reproduction and rearing of children, economic as the family provides for the family in terms of food and shelter, sexual and socialisation. Murdock regards these functions as necessary in any society; he suggests the nuclear family was found in every society however it is not the only form of arrangement that can carry these functions out.
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For functionalists the family “fulfils a number of important functions for individuals and society such as the socialisation of children and the stabilisation of adult personalities” Functionalists like Parsons and Dennis argue that in contemporary society many of the functions performed by the family and pre industrialised society has been removed from the family. Many argue that “these functions are being taken over by other institutions” and that these have been transferred to other institutions for example the NHS as well as the education and welfare system.
Parsons refers to this as structural differentiation and he also claimed that is process has meant that modern more specialised families now only have two main basic needs; Primary socialisation of children and stabilisation of adult personalities. However many sociologists argue against claims made my Parsons and Dennis, some argue that the family has not lost its functions. Fletcher and Shorter 1966 deny that the family has lost its functions in contemporary society.
They suggest that during pre industrial and early industrial society poverty meant that functions such as welfare and education were not effectively carried out. Children were often neglected and male peasants didn’t care for their wives but more about their animals. Fletchers argues that the family has now more note fewer functions placed on it for example the health and welfare functions of the family have been strengthened by welfare state and parents now are more preoccupied with their children’s health.
Social services with their powers now intervene in family cases if there are reports or suspicions of child neglect and this has increased the responsibilities of parents rather than discouraging them. Feminism however disagrees with the view that the family has lost its economic role of a unit of production and argue that it has become a unit of consumption. They also majority of home work is productive but it not recognised as such because it is unpaid and usually done by women. They argue that the economic contribution made by women is underestimated.
Radical feminist Christine Delphine and Dianna Leonard 1992 argues that some functions of production have been lost but others are preformed to a higher standard than the past for example washing, ironing and cleaning as “family life is much less stable than it was in the past”. A traditional function of the family is the reproduction and nurturing of children being seen as the main reason for marriage as a means of passing on family property and providing a future workforce. However this has changed as there has been an increase in the number of people having sexual relations before marriage and out of marriage.
Another traditional function of the family was industrialisation and the growth of factory production in Britain, the family was a unit of production which meant the family home was also a work place. Children would learn the skills needed for life from their elders and they often followed their parents footsteps in life. However this has changed as well as since the 19th century work has moved outside the home to factories and offices. Families no longer produce the goods they need they go out instead to work and earn wages to but the goods.
These skills needed can no longer be learnt from the family but rather in a place of work or education. Occupations are less likely to be achieved by kinship but instead by individual merits. Lastly the family traditionally played an important role in caring for children however before the twentieth century most children were poorly looked after due to poverty. This has now changed as the modern family gets more help in caring for children through a range of state welfare services and growing numbers of care services such as play groups and nurseries.
All the writers tend to think in terms of the family without differentiating between different family types. Graham Allan and Graham Crow 2001 argue that attempts to identify the functions of the family can be criticised because of the functionalist ‘one size fits’ approach. Postmodernists and different feminists reject this view that there is one single family type which always performs certain functions. This makes it difficult to measure functions of society.
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