Functionalist and Feminist Views of the Family

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Although the word family is mentioned frequently and forcefully in many discussions about society and its direction, the word is rarely defined. One of the primary problems with definitions of any sort is that it requires generalisations that might go so far as to make the exercise useless.


Traditionally, family is equated with the nuclear family of a married mother and father and their children. Marriage can best be defined as a legal or socially mandated arrangement between two people usually featuring sexual intercourse and consisting of both privileges and obligations (Kendall, 1998, p. 247). This couple, and its dependents, are 'a relatively permanent group of people related by ancestry, marriage or adoption, who live together, form an economic unit, and take care of their young' (Eitzen and Baca-Zinn, 2003, p. 436). This unit is primarily responsible for the 'achievement of adult satisfaction and social integration' (Ross and Sawhill, 1975, p. 3), which is why Sociologist are so interested in its functions and repercussions.
Between the 1940's and 1970's, the prevalent theory in the field was the markedly anti-Marxist structural functionalism, which is most frequently identified with the work of Talcott Parsons. For the Functionalists, individual self-interest, although pursued with some frequency, is not the only motivator of people, as these would make organised societies impossible. Men and women behave in accordance to shared ethical standards and mutual expectations, and these behaviours are 'internalised in the motivational systems of individuals' (Johnson, 1993, p. 116). ...
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