Today, families are vastly different including more single-parent households than ever before, stepfamilies, and adopted families, and grandparents raising their grandchildren, as well as young married couples having to move back in with their parents because they do not have the money to afford their own living arrangements yet. Whatever type of family you have there are different perspectives in which to view it, including the Funcionalist Perspective, Conflict Perspective, and Symbolic Interaction Perspective.
While these three perspectives differ greatly from one another, the family still remains one of the most important social institutions along with health-care, religion, education, mass media, politics, and economy. Family is defined as, ‘a basic social unit consisting of parent(s)and their children, considered as a group, whether living together or not. ‘ While every family is unique, there are similarities and differences within each family, no matter what perspective you are using. Functionalism, Conflict, and Interaction Theories are the three main sociological theories.
Each theory shows a different type of assumptions and defines a certain way of understanding a social institution, or action. In this paper, I would like to look at the family as a social institution from all three unique perspectives. It is my belief that the social institution of the family is the result of social action(s) and at the same time it also causes social action(s). The Functionalist perspective’s view on family is rather simple and revolves around the six main functions, first outlined over 65 years ago by William
F. Ogburn. The first main function a family performs is Reproduction. For society to remain and evolve, it must replace it’s dying members with new ones. Through reproduction, families contribute to the survival of the human race. The second function families perform is Protection. Human babies need constant care and attention as well as economic security. Every day we see parents caution their children not to cross the street without looking both ways, not to talk to strangers, to check in when they get somewhere… hese are just a few of the hundreds of examples that parents do to keep their children safe. Children are the most important thing in most people’s lives and understanding that means they will do whatever it takes to keep their children safe, even if that means that children feel overprotected and like their parents don’t have faith in them or don’t trust them, parents protecting their children is the most sincere form of love. In every culture in the world, the family takes full responsibility for keeping children safe and take responsibility for their upbringing.
The third important function a family performs is Socialization. Parents as well as other family members watch a child’s behavior closely and teach them the norms, beliefs, and values, as well as language of their specific culture to their children. One of the reasons that parents often send their children to day care is because they want them to learn to interact with other children in a respectful way and they want their little ones to have friends and learn important qualities like sharing and being patient.
Sending their children to school socializes their children and they learn a lot of values that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. The fourth important function a family performs is Regulation of Sexual Behavior. What was once the norm for sexual behavior-being heterosexual- is now subject to change, with more gay couples than in previous time periods. Sexual behavior also differs among cultures. America is more open-minded than the culture and people of Afghanistan.
While sexual norms and behaviors differ among cultures, the standards are most clearly defined within the family unit. The fifth function families perform is Affection and Companionship. In an ideal and perfect situation, the family provides it’s kin with a caring environment and close, trusting relationships which in turn make the family members feel secure, safe, and happy. Although, way to often, individuals view their family home as unhappy and or abusive. Still, family members expect their kin to care for them, be understanding, and to be supportive to them in a time of crisis.
An example would be with my own mother, when last week, although she has barely spoken to her mother or other family members in five months, she told me that if she had a big problem she would go to her mother because she knows that her mother would give the best advice. Families, no matter what may tear them apart they will almost always find their way back together. Although individuals may find family-like friendships and relationships at school or at work the basic family unit is still almost always the tighter group. The sixth and final main function a family provides is Provision of Social Status.
Every baby, when they are born have come into an ascribed status based on their family’s reputation and background, as well as the reputation of any siblings. For example, children that are close together in age will attend high school one right after the other and the teachers will likely already have an idea of what the younger sibling will be like based on the reputation of the older sibling. This can either be a good thing or a bad thing. In my life, I am both the older sister and the younger sister and I tried to set a good example for my sister to follow in school.
A child’s race and ethnicity also determine their place in society. Also the family’s resources affect whether that child will have access to certain privileges such as going to private school, dance or music lessons or going to college (Mumford, 1934). A wealthy family will most likely send their children to college in the pursuit of higher education, while a family headed by a single mother will not be able to send her children to college without taking out loans that the child and her will have to pay off over many years.
While there are those six main functions, a family will also traditionally fulfill a number of other functions including teaching the child the family’s religious beliefs and giving the child recreational outlets, such as playing a team sport or taking their children to the park to play and socialize with other children. To review, the functionalist view of family revolves around how a family reproduces, protects, socializes, regulates sexual behavior, provides affection, and companionship and provides social status.
Functionalists view the family as the main contribution to social stability. Another interesting view on the family as a unit comes from conflict theorist’s perspective. The Conflict theory’s view on family is different from functionalist theory in that they think that the family helps to maintain inequality. This view is very different than the functionalist perspective. Conflict theorists think that the family is a reflection of inequality in power and wealth that is found within larger societies (Barnard, A. , and Good, A,1984).