Sociology Exam Study
Chapter 10 The Family: The Site of Love, Exploitation, and Oppression
Views society as an integrated and self-maintaining system, analogous to a living organism.
It is consisted of a number of institutions that meet the needs of the social system as a
whole. The order of the whole is maintained despite major changes in structure.
The whole system is held together by the mechanisms of normative consensus and
shared role expectations.
Functionalists argue that family is important for the survival of society.
Socialization occurs primarily within the family. Functionalists say that without family there
would be no humanity and therefore no society.
Functionalist Theories of the Family
You can look at any institution in two related perspectives: 1) the contribution of that
institution to the functioning of society as a whole or 2) the institutions internal functioning
as a subsystem of itself.
There are 4 main functions that the family performs:
1. reproduction of societys members
2. socialization of new members; especially the newborn and younger children
3. regulation of sexual relations
4. economic co-operation to sustain adults and their offspring
Family happens in different forms within different societies. Extended families are where
several generations of kin live in the same dwelling usually under the authority of the most
senior male or most senior female in a matriarchal society. Nuclear families are isolated
couples with their dependent children. Although there are countries that practice polygyny
(one man having more than 1 wife), there are countries that also practice polyandry (one
woman having more than 1 husband).
The nuclear family is seen by functionalists as having an essential biological foundation.
People are not like animals that have instincts. People rely on their brains for everything.
People have biological drives such as jealousy and territoriality which create strong impulse
in humans to form families.
Functionalists argue that sexual differences promote heterosexual bonding. Only women
perform pregnancy, menstruation and therefore they are biologically predisposed for caring
for their children. Males have greater strength and aggressiveness which creates
predisposition to male dominance. Tiger said that this is why women concentrate on
nurturing roles within the home, where as men concentrate on the role of the economic
In functionalist analysis, family consists of a social system with its own internal needs which
must be met if the family is to maintain its equilibrium.
Bales says that small groups develop two kinds of leaders: instrumental leader who gets
tasks done, and an expressive leader who supports and encourages group members and
Parsons says that within families, one adult (preferably the male) performs instrumental
tasks, while the female has the expressive roles.
Functionalists also say that the typical nuclear family is mandated by the requirements of
The explanation of the family view for functionalists is pretty clear: that to change family
life or sex roles in any significant way is impractical.
Critique of Functionalist Theory
It ignores a wide diversity of family forms. It is challenged by the feminist and Marxist
theories as an ideology that justifies the status quo while ignoring the ways in which family
life is constrained by interests associated with capitalism and patriarchy. Eichler claims that this kind of theorizing is flawed by 4 biases: monolithic, conservative,
sexist, and microstructural.
Its the pervasive failure to focus upon changes that are transforming family life.
The combined effect of womens longer life expectancy and mens older age of marriage
leads to very different experiences for women and men.
These changes are very dramatic and only happen within a decade and they receive little
attention from the functionalist theory.
Its the stereotyping of female and male roles around images of the pregnant woman and
man the hunter.
This stereotype shows that women are barely involved in the workforce and men are barely
involved in caring for their family.
Its the primary focus on the internal workings of individual family units. There is little
consideration given to the way the government and the economy affect the family life.
Marxist Theories of the Family
Argue that both the organization of economic production in the wider society and the way
people earn their living critically influences the organization of family life.
Marxists challenge Parsons notion of a separation between the private realm of family
life and the public realm of industry.
Marxist Theory of Patriarchy
Engels speculates that the earliest form of family was communal, based on free sexual
relations and organized around matriarchal households. Engels says that this type of family
was undermined by two factors: 1) the knowledge of patriarchy and 2) male control over
private property. He also said that awareness of the male role also showed a leap of
Men gained control over land and domestic herds and therefore over the economic surplus.
As they gained wealth they wanted to control inheritance. Monogamy and patriarchy
Capitalism and Family Forms in Canada
During early homesteading period, a man and woman relied on each other to produce
everything they could for the family to survive, and they shared all property. When the
mortgage was paid off, the farm belonged to the husband only.
Later on, men were the first to leave to go work for wages, where as women did domestic
work and cared for children.
The Social Construction of Class Relations in the Home
No matter if women work outside the home or not, they are responsible for the homework.
It is known that married men are more stable workers than single men because it is much
harder for a married man to leave work even if he doesnt like the working conditions
because he has a family to support.
Women must wake up before the men and prepare him for work, and then wait with his
dinner for him to come home. She must keep the children quiet and out of trouble while heis at work. Practically, she is as much of an employee to the mine as he is, but she doesnt
Middle-class women support the careers of their husbands by taking the responsibility of
the household and childcare. To be a good homemaker, a woman must make her
husbands success visible, she cant let him fail.
If a womans child fails at school it is as if she doesnt love her child enough.
Both men and women usually feel trapped by her dependence on his wages. Luxton says
that this is the root of much of the domestic violence that occurs in the home.
The Radical Feminist Critique: Capitalism or Patriarchy?
Radical Feminist perspective has an appreciation of the impact of capitalism on family
life (same as Marxism).
Radical feminists dont believe that the privatization of women was not evident in the
precapitalist era. They also dont agree that it will decline with the transition to socialism.
Women could not go to court for rape if they didnt have at least 4 male witnesses, if they
do go to court and dont have these witnesses they can be charged for having unlawful sex.
The Roots of Male Power
Men power over women is not automatic. Men can struggle to control women but women
have control over reproduction.
Radical feminists predict that men will strive to minimize the level of economic
independence and they will also strive to gain control trough other ways like domestic
violence and medical and legal control over reproduction.
Limits to Economic Freedom for Women
Men return to work relaxed and refreshed where as women come to work exhausted from
domestic work, child ca