Sociological Perspectives on the Family

Last Updated on May 25, 2023 by Karl Thompson

This is the first of seven* broad topics within the sociology of the family for A-level sociology (*as defined by most A-level text books!)

Perspectives on the family: a summary

Below is a brief summary of the seven main perspectives, click the links for further details!

  1. Functionalism – focus on the positive functions of the nuclear family, includes Murdock’s theory that the nuclear family is universal and Parsons’ Functional Fit Theory.
  2. Marxism – Engel’s theory that the nuclear family emerged with capitalism and private property so the bourgeois could pass their wealth down to their children; and the modern idea that the family is a unit of consumption.
  3. Feminisms – Liberal Feminists believe there is nothing inherently wrong with the nuclear family, Marxist-Feminists believe the subordination of women within the family is essential to keeping capitalism going; radical feminists argue the nuclear family is the main source of oppression for women through such things as domestic violence.
  4. The New Right – believe the nuclear family is the ideal type of family
  5. Postmodernism – there is no longer a normal type of family but rather family diversity because people have more freedom and choice in postmodern society.
  6. Late Modernism – family diversity and breakdowns are more common, but people don’t choose this, it is because of increasing uncertainty and fragmentation in society.
  7. The Personal Life Perspective – there is no universal definition of the family. What counts as a family varies from individual to individual.

Being able to critically apply different perspectives is the most important skill you can demonstrate in Sociology. You can also apply the perspectives to many of the other topics within the family, most obviously Marriage and Divorce and Social Policies.

Key concepts, research studies and case studies

Please click here for a post containing brief definitions of many of these key terms.

  • The Nuclear family
  • Stable Satisfaction of the sex drive
  • Primary Socialisation
  • Dual Burden
  • Stabilisation of adult personalities
  • Primitive communism
  • ideological functions
  • family as a unit of consumption
  • Socialisation
  • Parson’s functional fit theory
  • Traditional society
  • Extended family
  • Triple Shift
  • Negotiated Family
  • The Underclass
  • Moral Decline
  • The Pure Relationship
  • Risk Society
  • Consumer culture
  • Globalisation
  • Negotiated family
  • Individualisation
  • ‘The normal chaos of love’       

Possible exam style short answer questions

Please click here for my hub-post on exam advice with links to some of the questions below. 

Outline and briefly explain two positive functions that the nuclear family might perform (10)

Using one example, explain what is meant by the term ‘the stabilisation of adult personalities’ (4)

Using one example explain how the nuclear family’ fits’ industrial society? (4)

Outline and briefly explain two criticisms of the ‘The Functionalist Perspective’ on the family (10)

Outline three ways in which the family might perform ideological functions (6)

Using one example, explain what is meant the phrase ‘the family is a unit of consumption’ (4)

Define the term Patriarchy (2)

Outline and briefly explain the difference between the Liberal and Radical Feminist views of the family (10)

Using one example explain postmodern society has influenced family life in recent years (4)

Possible Essay Questions

Assess the Contribution of Functionalism to our Understanding of Family Life (20)

Using material from Item 2B and elsewhere, assess the contribution of feminist sociologists to an understanding of family roles and relationships

Evaluate the New Right Perspective on the family (20)

Evaluate the postmodernist view of the family and relationships (20)

Assess the view that the main aim of the nuclear family is to meet the needs of Capitalism (20)

Using material from Item 2B and elsewhere, assess the view that, in today’s society, the family is losing its functions (20)

The final question is emboldened because it is more likely you’ll get a question like this rather than a straightforward ‘assess this perspective’ type question.

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