Talcott Parsons wrote the agenda for almost all the earlier post-war
sociologies of the family. It is hard to find a text book on the
family which does not, at some stage, give a list of the functions of
the family. Consequently, an outline of Parsons' ideas concerning the
family is a useful starting point for understanding the sociology of
You are not expected to agree with Parsons, but if you disagree make
sure you can explain why you disagree.
Parsons argued that:
- Societies evolve as the result of functional adaptations to the
problems presented by inter-relationships between (and within) systems
that make up the social totality. (Functional adaptations sounds very
similar to Max's idea of the dialectic - that there is something in a
society that 'causes' change).
- History is an evolutionary process of adaptation to problems.
(Again, Marx's approach is evolutionary in character).
- Social systems have the characteristics they do because they are
functional for their existence.
- Their existence is a testament to their necessity.
So, Parsons views the family as a dynamic institution undergoing
evolutionary modifications. (Not a bad idea really - think of
contemporary family developments). The Family is neither outmoded or
facing collapse. Parsons argues, that as societies evolve they become
more specialised. For example, the family, once directly involved in
production and education, has lost these functions to other
There is, however, a problem with the Parsons family. It is: North
American, white and middle class (Morgan 197...
... middle of paper ...
... the closest bond
is formed. But it should be appreciated that the chief bond need not
be with a biological parent, it need not be with the chief caretaker
and it need not be with a female." (Rutter 1972).
So, it would seem that human beings are able to adapt to a wide range
of family situations. The implication for Parsons theory is that it
cannot be correct. We need to ask, if it is not ‘natural’ then why do
we have the family forms that we do?
8. Cross-cultural evidence: The problem with such evidence is that it
can inform as to variety or uniformity but does not explain why such
patterns exist. It is descriptive rather than explanatory. Therefore,
differing researchers can look at the same evidence and reach
different conclusions to functionalist accounts. This is what some
varieties of feminism have done.
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