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University of Toronto Mississauga
Lina Samuel

1) In what way(s) do conflictMarxist theories challenge the functionalist understanding of the family? Explain. HANEEN ANSWER: 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 isnt 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 isnt 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. www.notesolution.comConflict Marxist Theorists: Agree that the family performs certain functions, BUT emphasis on the way in which these functions are closely linked to the economic structure of any society. Feminist Conflict Marxist Theorists: Interpret the relationship between family and wider society in terms of power relations between men and women, and tend to see institutions like the family in terms of what they do to support a certain structure within capitalist society. Feminists argue that the functionalist view of the expressive and instrumental roles as natural are socially constructed. Feminists disagree with Murdochs idea that the nuclear family is natural, believing that there is no preferable family structure and encourage family diversity. Feminists argue that the functionalist view of the family encourages oppression of women. Marxists argue that the functionalist view of the family views those family structures which support and benefit Capitalism and that the nuclear family is part of the superstructure with the sole purpose of perpetuating a capitalist system. Marxists believe that the family socialises its members to accept the false consciousness that capitalism is good for all and that the government helps the people through healthcare etc. Marxism rejects the functionalist idea that society is based on consensus; they would say that current society is based upon a conflict between the small powerful ruling class and the working majority. Both Marxists and feminists disagree with the functionalist idea that each organ of society exists for the benefit of society itself and for its individual members, they believe that they exist for the benefit of the ruling class of either capitalists or men, respectively. Talcott Parsons states that the 2 main functions of the family in modern society were as safety valve and for socialisation of children and he assigned both these functions to the wife, meaning the wife should relieve the husbands stress when he comes home from work and raise the children. This view has been criticised by the feminists. Talcott Parsons Fit Thesis states that the Modern Nuclear family evolved to meet the needs of an industrial society. However, Parsons theory has been widely criticised and disproved by historical evidence. (Notably studies by Laslett and Anderson. Laslett disproved Parsons idea that the majority lived in extended families before the industrial revolution by using parish records in England from 1564-1821, which showed that only 10% of households were extended families. Andersons study was conducted on a 10% sample of 1851 census data from Preston, which showed that 23% of households were extended families. This evidence seems to suggest that the reverse of Parsons idea of the trend from extended to Nuclear family is true, however, it should be noted that this research is from limited sources. Later Wilmott and Young suggested that Parsons was correct in identifying a general trend; however, the timescale in which he placed his Fit Thesis was incorrect. ) One criticism of the functionalist view of the family comes from radical psychiatry, who argue
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