Functionalism vs Marxism : A Family Case Study

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorUniversity, Bachelor's February 2008

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The definition of a family is one still being argued over by sociologists. However, for the purposes of this essay, I have chosen the broad definition of family as "a group of people who live together" The family chosen for this examination it will be argued, fit the functionalist view of the family. In order to demonstrate this, the functionalist view of the family will first be outlined.

According to functionalist theory, the existence of a particular institution is evidence for its necessity to society. Based on a study of 250 societies Murdock concluded that the nuclear family, i.e. a family consisting of a father, mother and their children, is the universal human grouping. Moreover, he also stated that this grouping satisfies both the physical and psychological needs of the members which could not be met by other societal structures. The family unit is thereby viewed by functionalists as essential to the welfare of the individuals.

Marxist theory, on the other hand, takes a negative look at the family. Seeing it as an exploitive system developed by ruling classes in order to serve the needs of a capitalist nation. It therefore sees the existence of the nuclear family as being determined by the economy. Men of the family are exploited at work into serving the ruling class, and women, at home by doing domestic work for no pay. The family propagates this inequality since children, on seeing their parents fulfil these roles are socialised into believing that such exploitation is to be expected. Moreover it provides a means by which men may vent the frustrations of working class life and feel they have power and control thereby avoiding revolt in the workplace.

As stated at the start of this essay, the family under examination seems to best fit functionalist...