Monday, 6 February 2017

COLLEGE ESSAYS (Sociology) Explain and evaluate contrasting sociological theories of the family.

This essay will be looking at the family from 3 different perspectives. The functionalist perspective, the social action perspective and the feminist perspective.

The family is a unique part of society, which is found in every country and culture in the world. The forms it takes on vary so greatly across different societies, that many say it is impossible to define the family.

There are many different 'types' of family. The most common is the nuclear family (conjugal) which consists of the mother, the father and the children. The other most common family type is the extended family which consists of the same as the nuclear family and is also made up of other relatives such as grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Family is a hot topic in the world of sociology. Many debate the function of families within society and also the impact of society on families. Each of the theories outlined below argue the theory of family from totally different perspective.

The functionalist perspective suggests that we look at the major functions of the family. From this perspective it is easy to see that society as we know it could not exist without families. Families are like an organism made up of different parts that all work together. Each different part performs a specific function. Socialisation, regulation of sexual activity, social placement and material and emotional security are standard functions of a family. When all of these functions are taken together, families are often seen as the 'backbone of society'.

However, the functionalist perspective overlooks the great diversity in ways people can live together in the modern world. Functionalism also overlooks how other social institutions could meet at least some of the same human needs. Furthermore, the functionalist theory tends to focus more positive functions of the family. It also assumes that family is of equal benefit to everyone whereas Marxists would argue that society is shaped by the needs of the capitalist economy and that the family exists to serve these needs rather than those of its members. Many functionalists, particularly Parsons, do not consider the diversity of family types. Even within one society, there are variations based on class, region, ethnicity, religion etc.

The feminist approach is slightly more radical. Many feminists see the family as the central location of women's oppression. Until recently, men have nearly always been the head of the household. Feminism has had more influence on the study of the family than any other approach to understanding society. The feminist perspective focuses mostly on the harmful effects of family life on women. (Haralambos & Holborn 2007) The feminist approach looks at the family based on gender. It also looks at the power struggle between men and women.

Liberal feminists would argue that women have progressed in terms of equality within the family. They are of the belief that men are adapting to change and moving further towards domestic equality.

Marxist feminists would argue that the role of the housewife serves the needs of capitalism.

Radical feminists believe that the role of the housewife was created by patriarchy and geared to the service of men and their interests.

Criticisms of the feminist theory include the fact that women naturally want to have and raise children whereas men do not. Some feminists see women's subordination as fundamentally caused by their role in reproduction.

The theory of social action is that part of Sociology that examines collective human action independent of its content. It attempts to discover how individuals of our Species are able to coordinate their physical actions in order to achieve some common end, any end, without reference to any specific time or place. (

In relation to the family, all members of the family are capable of conscious thought and this enables them to be aware of themselves and others as social beings, they have their own values and beliefs, they are in control of their own actions. This is opposite to the social system theory which believes that society shapes the person and not the person shapes society.

In recent decades, transformation of family life has generated controversy. The advocates of “traditional family values” are locked in debate with supporters of new family forms and greater personal choice. (Macionis & Plummer 2008) Change to the family structure is inevitable due to change in the world. Men are becoming more involved in the rearing of children as women are pursuing careers. Partners are becoming less likely to marry and many are having children out of wedlock. There is also the emergence of single parent families, gay/lesbian parent families and blended families. furthermore, technology advancements mean that women have the ability to have a child without even the presence of a man.

Eventually, we will have a new theory on family that will encompass all of the above perspectives and also take into account the recent transformation of family life. Of course, this theory will then be argued and disputed between the traditionalists modernists. It is likely that there will not be a middle ground formed between the two extremes that both would agree on.


Haralambos, M & Holborn, M. 2004, Sociology – Themes and perspectives (sixth edition) London, Harper Collins

Fulcher, J & Scott, J Sociology Second Editon, 2003, Oxford University Press Inc, New York

Gittins, D, 1993, The Family in Question: Changing Households and Familiar Ideologies. Second Edition, Macmillan, London.

Macionis, J & Plummer, K. 2008 Sociology, a global introduction fourth edition, Pearson Education

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