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.
EXTRA NOTES from lecture and online (I found helpful):
Differences between conflict and functionalist:
Social-conflict theory focuses on competition between groups.
Whereas functionalists focus on balance and stability within a social system,
conflict theorists view society as comprised of social relations characterized by
inequality and change. Structural functionalism says society as a complex system of interrelated
parts working together to maintain stability.
Structural Functionalists: emphasis on general functional nature of relationship.