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Family & Childhood

The sociology of family and childhood follows sociology’s general three frameworks.


Structural functionalism

Functionalists focus on the family and its relationship to society. Parksons argued that the family fulfills a number of functions within society, but identified two as key:(1)

  1. Socialisation of children into the appropriate values and norms of society. This should instill independence and a motivation to achieve in children’s personalities
  2. Stabilisation of the adult personality through marriage, serving as an antidote to the emotional stresses and strains of everyday life

Parson’s theory included the differentiation of gender roles within the family, with each partner filling one of two somewhat opposing but complementary functions.

Structural functionalism was the dominant theoretical perspective in North America during the 1950s and 1960s.(1) Since then, functionalist theories of the family have been critiqued because they provide little to no consideration of alternative family forms. Older theories also justify the sexual division of labour, and ignore gender inequalities inherent in Parson’s ‘complementary roles’ structure.(1)


Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionist theories of the family examine the family at a more micro level than functionalism, focusing on the ways the family create and recreate themselves everyday. Rather than seeing family roles as pre-existing and given structures, this perspective focuses on the meanings and experience associated with these roles and how they are constructed.(1)

What symbolic interactionism lacks in macro theories, it makes up for in a very thorough understanding of family relations, as there is a substantial body of research focusing on almost every conceivable aspect of family life.


Conflict theories

Marxist theories of the family centre on the association between property relations and family structure. Family is seen first and foremost as an institution that reproduces class. The institution of family is also viewed as the safety valve in which men exercise their frustration at their position in society in a manner that does not challenge the overall system of capitalism.(1)

Engels theorised that the nuclear family was the result of the rise of private property, which brought with it the problem of inheritance. He argued that the monogamous marriage was a means of controlling women and ensuring the paternity of their children.(1)



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