Functionalist writings go into much depth in regard to the state and roles of the family in modern, post industrial revolution, society. How accurately the interpretation and observations that are made by the Functionalist view represent the state of the family is, however, a contentious point. Functionalists see the family as the key place where primary socialisation of the young, next generation of society, takes place.
The functionalist view of the family is that the family is the corner stone of the whole of society; indeed, the writings of key functionalists, such as Murdock and Parsons describe the family as having four basic functions – sexual, reproductive, economic and educational. All of these functions can be seen in the model modern family – it is, in effect, somewhat of an idealistic view of the way in which family within society behaves. This is one way in which the functionalist perspective is challenged.
When looking at modern society and the role family has within it, the functionalist perspective fails to identify that, in some cases, this family model does not exist. Both Murdock and Parsons observations of the family have failed to identify with any other form or institution that may be in place to emulate, and that can take the role of, the family. Indeed, as Morgan notes in his criticism of Murdock’s view on the family, Murdock does not answer ‘to what extent these basic functions are inevitably linked with the institution of the nuclear family’ (Morgan, 1975).
By doing this, both Murdock and Parsons fail to depict the form that alternatives to the family may take, and thus cannot reflect the modern role of the family in society today accurately. Another criticism of the functionalist representation of the family is that it does not take into account the effect that different social classes and religious views have on the form of the modern family. Clearly, modern society has a multi-religious, multi-class organisation, and this affects the way in which different families are organised.
If the functionalist view does not take this into account when attempting to reflect modern society, and for this reason may be said to not accurately represent the state of the modern society. The view that the family benefits both its members and society as a whole in modern times, as functionalists present, has come under strong attack itself. Some cases show that, far from being a positive institution to society, family can in fact be a cause of friction and unrest that leads to contamination of wider society. R. D. Laing notes how the family is a ‘nexus’, and that ‘the highest concern of the nexus is reciprocal concern. Each partner is concerned about what the other thinks, feels, does’ (Laing, 1962). It is for this reason that, Laing argues, the family is a source of social unease. This view is in direct opposition to the functionalistic view that the family has only positive attributes. The Functionalistic perspective also stands at a direct opposition to some other sociological perspectives, and this may have an affect on how accurate the functionalist view of the family is seen.
The Marxist perspective, for example, takes the family as a negative institution as a whole, and believes that, although the observations of some functionalistic writings are correct in terms of how the family is structured, it is not a wholly negative institution for society. This is, however, because of the direct opposition to the basis of the functionalist paradigm on a greater scale. Marxist writers believe that the family is a breeding ground for the reproduction of a capitalist ideology, and that this, for society, is negative.
Although the contrast of other sociological paradigms does not prove nor disprove the validity of the functionalist reflection of the family within modern society, it does give people an idea, when trying to decide how accurate the functionalist perspective is, of other stances that may be as, or a more, accurate description of modern family and its relationship to the rest of society. Therefore it is an important aspect of looking into the accuracy of any different perspective, to also hold it in comparison with other recognised views.
Although on the surface the functionalist view of the family appears to be an accurate description of modern family arrangement, it can be faulted at many points. However, this is not to say that the perspective is totally worthless of being granted some identity within the whole of the sociological family situation. The functionalist perspective gives a good insight into the way in which a family is organised in, and, supposedly supports, a capitalist society – the main framework of post industrial revolution western society.
All sociological views have flaws that mean they cannot be fully accurate in description of any situation, and everyone has their own objective view of each of the sociological paradigms, so it is not possible to say, definitively, if one or another accurately depicts a situation or not. It must be left to an informed individual to make up his or her own mind on the subject.