This is a possible question which could come up in the AQA’s Paper 2, families and households topic. This post is just a few thoughts on how I’d go about answering it.
I think this would be a fair question given that this is quite a difficult topic for students, and quite limited in what you can say for 20 marks.
You might like to review the material on the Personal Life Perspective in more depth before reading what’s below, or before having a go at the question yourself, before looking at the suggestions below!
The Personal Life Perspective argues that sociologists should study family life from the perspectives of individuals, and focus on what families mean to them. If people believe that pets and dead relatives are part of their family, the sociologists should accept this.
This is very different from traditional sociological perspectives such as Functionalism and Marxism, which tended to study the nuclear family and look at what functions this performed for the individual and society.
Using the item and your own knowledge, Evaluate the personal life perspective on the family
What you need to do here is firstly show your knowledge of the Personal Life Perspective, and contrast this to Functionalism and Marxism. You can gain evaluation marks by showing how the PLP perspective criticise these older perspectives. Further analysis marks can be picked up by discussing how the former perspectives may have been relevant to a modernist society, but the PLP perspective is probably a better way of analysing the family in a post-modern society.
Finally, to criticise the PLP perspective, you could use Gidden’s Late Modernist theory. Although this would be a stretch for many students, especially as many of the text books don’t even recognise that Giddens is a Late Modernist.
- The PLP perspective emerged in the 1990s and criticised the Functionalist and Marxist view that the nuclear family should be the primary unit of analysis.
- PLP argues that people still form meaningful relationships, but their Identity or sense of belonging increasingly comes from other people NOT traditionally regarded as part of a ‘normal family’ – for example pets, friends and dead relatives may all be seen as important to individuals.
- The PLP perspective makes sense today because the nuclear family has declined in significance as fewer people get married, fewer people have kids, and more and more people spend time living alone, yet people still form meaningful relationships with each other.
- The PLP perspective suggests we look at the family from the individual’s point of view, taking their definition – which can be useful, because if we do so we find that many people regard ‘non-nuclear’ family members as more important to them than their immediate traditional family.
- This is is useful because it means we should not over-estimate the stability of the traditional nuclear family, and not be surprised by high rates of family break-down.
- PLP also seems to fit in with interactionism – looking at the family from the ground up, rather than the top down, a strength of this is that we see that there are still families in the UK, nearly everyone has one, but just not in the standard ‘nuclear family’ sense of the word.
- The PLP perspective is thus useful in criticising the New Right – people may not be in nuclear families, or married, but they are capable of establishing their own alternative families.
- PLP is also useful to criticise Functionalism and Marxism – if families are different to the nuclear family, theories which focus on the role of the nuclear family must be wrong.
- This is also a useful way of exploring family diversity, revealing family diversity if you like, and it’s appropriate when life-courses are diverse and complex.
- The PLP perspective did, however suggest that people are not entirely free to construct their own families, they are constrained in their ability to do so by society and their immediate culture.
- Finally, a weakness of PLP is that it ends up being a bit wishy-washy, descriptive rather than analytical, one is kind of left shrugging one’s shoulders wondering what the point of it is!