Families: The relationship of the family to the social structure and social change

What is the social structure?


The concept of a social structure is primarily associated with the two core sociological perspectives: Functionalism and Marxism.

Functionalists argue that society is organised through institutions, each performing specific functions that collectively contribute to the maintenance of the entire societal system—reminiscent of organs in a body (referred to as the 'organic analogy'). In this framework, the family is considered to play a vital role in the reproduction of the next generation.

Marxists perceive the social structure as organised along social class lines, with the bourgeoisie exerting control over the major institutions of society.

Feminism adopts a more intricate perspective on the social structure, whether discussing Liberal, Marxist, or Radical viewpoints.

Postmodernists and Late Modernists propose that the social structure, to which Marxists and Functionalists allude, is considerably more fluid than in the past. They contend that it constrains the individual far less in contemporary times than it did in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, the periods during which Marxists and Functionalists predominantly conducted their writings.


Recent social changes that you may contemplate include...

The social changes related to the shift from modernity to postmodernity that you may consider addressing include:

1. Globalisation
2. The breakdown or increasing fluidity of social structure
3. Enhanced individual freedom and choice


The relationship of the family to the social structure

The conventional approach to this topic involves examining it through the primary sociological perspectives. If you are familiar with the various perspectives' views on the family and social structure, you should inherently be addressing social change simultaneously, as the two are fundamentally interconnected.


The Functionalist view on the family and social structure

Talcott Parsons formulated the Functional Fit Theory to elucidate the transformation of the primary family structure from the extended family to the nuclear family, corresponding to the transition from pre-industrial to industrial society.

 He contended that the nuclear family was a better fit for the requirements of an industrial society due to its smaller and more mobile nature. The transformations brought about by industrialization necessitated families to be more flexible and mobile.

Moreover, he argued that the family's role in industrial society was reduced to fewer functions, as other institutions emerged to perform various roles more efficiently than the traditional extended family. For instance, schools took on the role of education.

In industrial society, the family is asserted to perform only two primary functions: the stabilisation of adult personalities, providing emotional security, and reproduction.


The Marxist view of the family and social structure

 This perspective sharply contrasts with the Functionalist viewpoint. Engels posited that the emergence of the nuclear family during industrialisation served a specific purpose – to legitimize the transfer of property to the next generation. According to Engels, under capitalism, the existence of wealth leads to the formation of family units that ensure the preservation of new wealth within the family.

Engels argued that before the advent of capitalism, families operated as a sort of 'promiscuous hoard,' where people collectively cared for children in the absence of private property. The nuclear family, according to Engels, only arises when certain families acquire property under capitalism.

In later Marxist analyses, it is suggested that the nuclear family continues to serve functions for capitalism by evolving into a unit of consumption, among other roles.


The Radical Feminist view on the Nuclear Family

Radical Feminists posit that the nuclear family is the principal institution sustaining Patriarchy.

The conventional nuclear family, coupled with the ideology of the housewife role for women, confines women to the domestic sphere and excludes them from the workplace. This arrangement impedes their ability to achieve financial independence, constraining them to a caregiving role and a life characterized by mundane drudgery.

Additionally, Radical Feminists argue that women are systematically exploited within the nuclear family. Contrary to the notion of the family as a secure haven, domestic abuse is identified as a prevalent yet concealed aspect of many relationships.

A fundamental tenet of radical feminism is the assertion that the nuclear family should be dismantled, advocating that women would benefit more from exploring alternative forms of relationships.


Post and Late Modernism

In literature since the 1980s, Postmodernists contend that the concept of a 'normal' family is obsolete. Instead, family diversity is considered the norm, marked by a greater variety of family structures than ever before. This is evident in the rise of single-person households and single-parent households, among other variations.

According to Postmodernists, every facet of family life is viewed as a matter of choice. Consequently, there is a trend of delayed marriage and family formation, alongside consistently high divorce rates.

Late Modernists propose that the complexities of family life in contemporary society go beyond mere individual choices. They argue that the demands of social life today, characterized by hectic working schedules and constant distractions, make it more challenging to sustain relationships and maintain stable family lives. While people still desire these aspects, the contemporary social environment presents obstacles to achieving them.

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