Talcott Parsons adopts a functionalist perspective when writing about the family, where he focuses on the functions of the family in the society, as well as the functionality of the members of the family as a unit. In his argument, Parsons identifies two functions, which are inclusive of children’s primary socialization as well as the stabilization of adult personalities within the population of the given society (Stolley 2005, 23). On his position about the changes in family life, Parsons refers to the family in the pre-industrial society and the industrial society (Janssens 2003, 83). This setting leads to some changes in the structure of the family, thereby affecting the functional aspect of it.
In industrial societies, Parsons posits that the norm in industrialized societies includes nuclear families that have taken the form of a modified extended family (Janssens 2003, 85). This means that in industrialized societies, the nuclear family might not retain some of the contacts with their wider kin, thereby adopting an independent position in their kinship network. For this reason, the nuclear family structure, according to Parsons, is responsive to the need of industrialized societies. Contrary to the functions of the extended family in a pre-industrialized society, the functions of the nuclear family were reduced due to the emergence of different specialized institutions such as hospitals, schools, the churches and the media, among other institutions. These institutions have taken over some of the roles that carried out by families in the past, or pre-industrialized societies. For this reason, there is a reduction in the family size since they have fewer roles for their sustenance, which means that status in the family is not ascribed but achieved. He also indicates that labor demands across the geographical sphere enhance the mobility of the family, which is a factor that meets some of the demands in the industrial society.
Parson’s functionalist approach tries to identify some f the roles that the family performs for the reason of maintaining stability and order in the society. However, it would be vital to criticize Parson’s functionalist perspective of the family since he does not provide alternatives to the functions of the family (Vannoy 1998, 34). In this case, Parsons does not consider some of the other institutions that can be able to perform some of the functions that were previously performed by the family in pre-industrialized societies. The other reason for criticizing the Parson’s theoretical approach is the fact that his approach is too optimistic in nature. He only portrays the family in an optimistic manner, thereby lacking an accurate description of the family since he presumably overstates the stability and harmony of the nuclear family. Consequently, Parsons understates the aspect of conflict within the nuclear family in the industrialized societies. It is possible to argue that Parson’s theoretical approach is designed to offer protection to the existence of a traditional family.
On the other hand, the feminist theoretical approach sought to make an analysis of the impact of the family on the life of women. Despite the fact that the feminist approach has numerous differences, all the different feminists tend to agree with the fact that women take up a subordinate position within the family and that men are patriarchal in nature (Hooyman and Gonyea 2005, 103). This disposition occurs due to a number of reasons, for instance, due to capitalism as identified by Marxist feminism. The feminist theoretical approach identifies men as individuals that have more power in making decisions in the family, and that they benefit from the domestic work that women engage in, as well as the emotional support from the women. Consequently, despite the fact that women might be in paid employment, feminists argue that they should cater for their husband’s needs, which might both be emotional, physical, or sexual, and carry out domestic work without the expectation of any compensation. On the other hand, they argue that women are expected to raise their children at whatever cost.
However, with the existence of another type of feminism, the difference feminism, it is important to criticize the feminist theoretical approach regarding changes in the family. This is because the feminist theoretical approach neglects the consideration that women in different types of households have different experiences in their families (Hooyman and Gonyea 2005, 109). It might not be correct to indicate that all families in society exploit women in a similar manner since there are a number of factors that shape their experiences with family life. Some of these factors are inclusive of the sexual orientation of the women, which takes into consideration that there are a number of lesbian relationships in the current society, the structure of the family, race, and social class, among other factors. A critique of this theoretical approach is also vital since there are quite a number of single-parent families in the current society, and in this case, the woman in the family has more powers in decision-making.
Parson’s theoretical approach holds that one of the functions of a family is the provision of primary socialization to their children. In this case, the maintenance of order in the social system involves input from the family, which is responsible for instilling the values and norms of the society in the children. The children will then be able to internalize the norms and values thereby serving the needs of the entire society, at the same time pursuing their own interests. With the numerous opportunities, statuses as well as roles in the modern society, the socialization process, primarily influenced by the family, prevents individuals from becoming too deviant. However, distortions might lead to the implementation of social control mechanisms that are meant to stop the deviant characters, which might ultimately lead to the legal level of control. For this reason, Parson’s argument on the functionality of the family considers its role in the maintenance of patterns of stability in the societal institutionalized culture that defines the structure of the social system.
The feminist theoretical assumption reject the functional perspective of socialization, arguing that the socialization process operating in the family encourages female children to be obedient, domestic, dependent, and should conform to the societal demands regarding their position. On the other hand, the family encourages male children to be competitive, self-reliant, and dominant (Hooyman and Gonyea 2005, 109). When young children see their parents practicing some of their gender roles in the society, it is possible to insinuate that the children are likely to perceive the roles as inevitable or natural. For this reason, the females are likely to adopt some of the feminine traits as described by society, and the male children are likely to adopt some of the masculine qualities that society demands from them. Feminists advocate for these values in their theoretical framework (Hooyman and Gonyea 2005, 112).
Hooyman, N. R., & Gonyea, J. (2005). Feminist perspectives on family care: policies for gender justice. Thousand Oaks, Calif, Sage.
Janssens, A. (2003). Family and social change: the household as a process in an industrializing community. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Stolley, K. S. (2005). The basics of sociology. Westport, Conn, Greenwood Press.
Vannoy, D. (1998). Challenges for work and family in the twenty-first century. New York, Aldine de Gruyter.