The nuclear family can be taken to be two parents and their children. Is the nuclear family primarily to benefit the powerful rather than society as a whole can be perceived to be true. This point of view is associated with Marxism and the powerful are the ruling class or bourgeoisie. They own the means of production such as land, factories, machines and so on. Marxism is based on an exploitative and unequal relationship between two classes. The proletariats who are the workers are the majority and this is were the family comes in.
The family is controlled by those who control the economy and they control the family and manipulate the family into benefiting them. In any society the economic aspect (that is, the productive process involving the creation of goods and services for distribution and exchange) is always the most basic, fundamental and ultimately most significant aspect because it is only through economic activity that people can produce the things they need for their physical survival.
Marxists tend to see institutions like the family in terms of what they do to support the overall structure of capitalist society, their function within the limit of a particular form of economic production. Unlike Functionalist sociology, Conflict sociology tends to view these functions from more than one angle (for example, the family as an institution may serve useful purposes for upper class men, but not for working class women). Eli Zaretsky (“Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life”, 1976) a Marxists believes that the family is a prop to the capitalist society.
The capitalist system is based upon the domestic labour of housewives who reproduce future generations of workers. He also believes that family has become a vital unit of consumption. The family consumes the products of capitalism and this allows the bourgeoisie to continue producing surplus value. In this respect, people are not simply being socialised into “society”, the socialisation process is directed towards the integration of people into a specific form of social relationship, one that reflects the fundamental, structural, inequalities of Capitalism.
The ruling class ideology makes the family as an institution help to maintain and reproduce basic social inequalities by presenting them as “normal” and “natural” within the socialisation process. This creates a false class consciousness as they are not aware of their true identity as exploited workers. The family is a safety valve for people’s frustrations whereas the vast majority of males are relatively powerless in Capitalist industry, the family structure serves the purpose of disguising this powerless condition.
Males within the family have traditionally been powerful figures in relation the females. Marxists contend that this “illusion of power” within the family serves as a safety value for the build-up of tension and frustration at work. The feminist perspective on the family has tended to stress the following ideas. Men oppress women within the family, just as they oppress women within all other institutions in Capitalist society.
Feminist have tended to dismiss ides of gender differences based upon supposed biological / genetic differences between males and females that serve to legitimate male domination over women. Women have a role forced upon them within the family. Women act as “unpaid servants” within the home. This idea is linked, by Marxist feminists, to the economic relationship between Capital and labour, in the sense that labour is exploited by Capital in the economic aspect just as women are exploited by men within the family. They see family benefiting the powerful who are the men, this is patriarchy.
Functionalist sociology has tended to look towards the family as the cornerstone of social integration in any society by which is meant the idea that ways have to be found to make people feel that they belong to the society into which they were born – to feel and believe that they have something in common with the people around them. The family group represents the primary institution, in any society, for the initial socialisation of children. In this respect, any institution charged with this responsibility is going to play a significant part in the reproduction of cultural norms and values, therefore family benefits society as a whole.
The family as a unit of stability, of equal importance to this socialisation function, the family also represents an institution that acts as a stabilising force in society. In this respect, the family is seen to be an institution that is charged with ensuring the maintenance of social order. The basic relationship of the family institution to the whole social structure in society that is proposed by Functionalists is the family is a vital social institution responsible with the basic functions of socialisation and system maintenance.
Fletcher a functionalist thinker, identifies the main functions of the family as being: Procreation and Child-Rearing: The family structure provides a legitimate arena for the bearing and raising of children. Given the relative helplessness of children at birth, parental nurture and care is seen as vital – and the family provides a solid basis for such care and support in the early years of a child’s social development. Regulation of Sexual Behaviour:
In this respect, the family structure serves to limit and contain sexual jealousies and by defining the limits of sexual freedom, the family structure limits the chances of potentially damaging sexual relationships developing. Additionally, the family is a primary institution for the provision of love, care and emotional support for both children and adults. In short, it provides a sense of belonging and serves to clearly-define role relationships between men and women. Provision of a Home:
This idea expresses the assumption that people find comfort and security within primary social and sexual relationships. The “home” not only provides physical shelter, it also serves as the focal point of family existence. I recognise that the family group serves some kind of purpose in any society. Where Marxists tend to disagree with thinkers working in other perspectives, however, is in relation to the nature of that purpose and, for Marxists, the relationship between the family and the social structure of any society is one of unequal dependence.
Functionalists argue that social institutions develop out of the need to satisfy, fulfil and organise various human social needs. However I feel that the primary role of the family is not to benefit the powerful but in some societies it does to an extent conform to this idea. There are other functions of the family such as the socialisation of children also providing love and support for its members which does not always benefit the powerful.
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