SOC244 Sociology of Families, summer 2010
Midterm review questions: #1
1)In what way(s) do conflict/Marxist theories challenge the
functionalist understanding of the family? Explain.
To functionalists, like Talcott Parsons (1955), the family is a harmonic system at
the heart of society, considered a sacred institution, an equilibrium-based, male-
dominated politically conservative institution. George P.Murdock (1949) claimed
that the nuclear family is so useful to society that it is inevitable and universal
appearing everywhere, the family is universal because it fulfils essential functions
for society, Murdoch (1949) says that the nuclear family is "universal and natural",
(BUT, by taking a cross cultural look at families we see families are diverse, so
nuclear family isn’t universal), he states 5 functions of the nuclear family include:
(1)Sexual regulation, (2)Economic cooperation, (3)Reproduction, (4)Socialization,
and (5)Emotional Support. Another functionalist, Bronislaw Malinowski (1913) said
the main function of families is nurturing their children.
Functionalists have been accused of idealising the family, ignoring conflict and
abuse within families, ignoring gender inequality within families, ignoring the
rising divorce rates, ignoring growing family diversity, etc.
Conflict / Marxist is a theoretical perspective that views society as an unequal
system that brings about conflict and change. Conflict theory looks at the balance
between the order and disorder in the family structure. Conflict / Marxist theories
challenge the functionalist view of family as a harmonic system, as they view family
as a diverse system. For example, the role of the family in maintaining inequalities
in male-female relationships is examined. (Marxist Feminism claims that the
origins of the nuclear family are situated within the social relations of capitalism).
Fundamental assumption, shared with general conflict theory include conflict is a
basic element of human social life, and a basic reason for conflict is individuals are
motivated to act in accordance with their own interests. People pursue needs,
values, goals, and resources that they define as important or desirable to them.
According to Conflict / Marxist theorists: Different individuals or groups could want
different things. This is applicable to the family, for example, children argue about
use of television, parents and children disagreeing about issues, etc. Or, different
individuals or groups want the same thing, but there is a limited supply of the
commodity. For example, men and women compete for time, men not doing
housework because it isn't profitable, etc. Page 1 of 4