A 10 mark ‘analyse with item’ practice question and answer for the AQA’s A-level paper 2: families and households section
Applying material from item C analyse two ways in which the nuclear family might perform ideological functions (10)
Marxist sociologists have long argued that the traditional nuclear family performs ideological functions for capitalism, through for example, socializing children into thinking that hierarchy normal and inevitable.
However, radical Feminist sociologists argue that the main function of the nuclear family lies in maintaining inequalities between men and women through promoting patriarchal ideology.
A brief model plan…
Point 1: One ideological function = socialising children into thinking inequality is normal, this is done through ‘age patriarchy’ – children are expected to be obedient to parents.
Development – much like the correspondence principle in education this gets children ready to be obedient to their bosses in work and also to accept inequalities in broader society, class inequalities which exist between bourgeois and proletariat for example.
Further development – According to Marxist Feminists, traditional gender roles further encourage obedience to the rules at work – if man thinks he is ‘the provider’ and women are dependent at home, the male worker is less likely to go on strike because it undermines his provider role.
Further development – According to Marxists the family might also passify children by acting as a unit of consumption – they are taught to ‘find their identity’ in the products they consume, not in thinking and questioning, thus this might contribute to ideological control.
Evaluation – a problem with this specifically performing functions for capitalism is that ‘age patriarchy’ within families typically occurs in pre-capitalist societies.
Point 2: Radical Feminists argue the traditional nuclear family normalises gender inequality
Development – women stay at home look after the kids, men go to work, women are thus financially dependent on men in this situation
Further Development – This can also be reinforced by the way dads tend to police daughters more than sons (differential gender socialisation)
Further development – the privatised nuclear family also allows male violence against women to go unnoticed
Evaluation – HOWEVER, liberal fems and postmodernists would point out that gender norms are changing and the above is all much more likely in the age of the negotiated family and the pure relationship.
A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle
One way is that other institutions, such as the work place and schools are taking over previous functions which the family used to perform.
According to Parson’s Functional Fit Theory, families in pre-industrial society used to be ‘units of production’: they produced more of their own food, and the extended-family form worked well for this purpose: several members of one household lived and worked together in order to produce food and basic goods. At this time, the extended family also provided adequate education, limited to teaching children how to ‘work effectively’ as part of the family business.
However, with the onset of industrialisation, the factory became the main place of work and so the family lost this ‘economic function’. This also laid the basis for the family losing another function: that of education – children cannot learn the skills needed to work in factories at home, they need to do so ‘at work’.
Furthermore, following many more years of industrial development and economic growth, the number of jobs requiring specialist skills grew, meaning the development of primary and secondary education, which left the family only being responsible for ‘primary socialisation’ and formal education largely taken over secondary socialisation.
Parsons further argued that one other ‘function’ left to the smaller nuclear family was the stabilisation of adult personalities: that is men and women care for each other in relationships and the family provides ’emotional security’ (although this is criticised by radical feminists for ignoring the fact that women bare more of the emotional burden).
Although the nuclear family performs fewer functions, these functions are still important according to Functionalists,
A second reason is that the increase in divorce means that families are losing their ability to socialise children effectively as there are more ‘broken families.
This view is most closely associated with the New Right who argue that the increase in single parent families means less effective socialisation for children as they have fewer positive role models, evidenced by the higher levels of deviance displayed by children from ‘broken homes’.
However, radical feminists interpret this differently – they argue that the increase in divorce is a sign of the family losing it’s ‘patriarchal control’ function – women feel as if they are more able to leave abusive relationships, which is at least partly because changing gender roles means now that most women work, they are able to support themselves.
Moreover, IF single parents families are less effective at socialising children, this is because of the governments unwillingness to support single parents in work through appropriate social policies such as providing free child care for working single parents.
Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that it is not just single parents who struggle to socialise their children within the family: technological changes such as the growth of social media mean that all parents increasingly struggle to socialise their children effectively.
A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle
Functionalists have a very general analysis of the role of education in society, simply looking at how it contributes to the maintenance of social order, whereas Marxists analyse the role of education by focusing on how it performs different functions for different social classes.
As I see it, Marxists offer a ‘deeper layer’ of analysis compared to Functionalists, although critics of Marxism may say they seeing class divisions where there are none.
Below is a basic comparison of Functionalist and Marxist perspectives on the role of education in society:
Functionalism: Education serves the needs of an industrial society by providing it with an advanced, specialised division of labour
Marxism: Education part of the ideological state apparatus, and works for the Bourgeois
Functionalism: Education serves the needs of the social system by socialising new generations into shared norms and values which provide harmony and stability
Marxism: Teaches us the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – we believe we fail because it’s our own fault, thus put up with inequality
Functionalism: The formal and hidden curriculums helpsprepare children for service to society
Marxism: Correspondence Theory – Hidden Curriculum makes us accept authority without question
Functionalism: Education provides the means for upward mobility for those prepared to work hard
Marxism: Education reproduces class inequality – middle class kids more likely to succeed and get good jobs
This is an example of a relatively straight forward 6 mark question which might appear on the AQA’s A level paper 1 (7192/1).
If you require a more detailed breakdown of paper 1 please click here.
The basic approach to answering 6 mark ‘outline’ questions is to think of them as 1+1 questions – in this case identify a function (for 1 mark) and then explain how education performs that function (for +1). Repeat this 3 times, and you have 3*(1+1) = 6/6 marks.
You should spend no more than 9 minutes on this question (a minute and a half per mark).
A ‘function’ of education is something education (mainly schools) does; a purpose it fulfills, or a goal it contributes towards achieving.
Below are some (1+1) suggestions as to how you might successfully answer this question.
Outline three functions which the education might perform for society (6)
Getting students ready for work – school does this by starting off teaching basic reading and writing, which most jobs require, and later on by giving students specific job related skills – such as biology gets you ready for a career in medicine.
Education creates social solidarity which is where we all feel as if we are part of something bigger, working towards the collective good – school does this by teaching everyone the same history and literature, which helps to forge a sense of national identity.
Education maintains social order, performing a social control function – it does this through requiring that all students attend and through surveillance, any student who does not conform is subject to disciplinary procedures, thus learning to stick to the rules in later life.
Emile Durkheim argued that schools were essential for ‘imprinting’ shared social values into the minds of children. He believed schools would play a central role in forming modern societies.
Functionalist sociologist Emile Durkheim saw Education as performing two major functions in advanced industrial societies – transmitting the shared values of society and simultaneously teaching the specialised skills for an economy based on a specialised division of labour.
Durkheim, a French sociologist, was writing at the turn of the twentieth century (late 19th and early 20th) and he believed that schools were one of the few institutions uniquely poised to assist with the transition from traditional society, based on mechanical (face to face) solidarity, to modern society, which was much larger in scale and based on organic (more abstract) solidarity.
Education and the Transmission of Shared Values
According to Durkheim ‘Society can survive only if there exists among its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity: education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the child from the beginning the essential similarities which collective life demands’ (Durkhiem, quoted in Haralambos 2013).
Education does this by instilling a sense of social solidarity in the individual – which involves instilling a sense of belonging to wider society, a sense of commitment to the importance of working towards society’s goals and a feeling that the society is more important than the individual.
Durkheim argued that ‘to become attached to society, the child must feel in it something that is real, alive and powerful, which dominates the person and to which he owes the best part of himself’ (Durkheim, quoted in Haralambos 2013).
Education, and in particular the teaching of history, provides this link between the individual and society. If history is taught effectively, it ‘comes alive’ for children, linking them to their social past and developing in them a sense of commitment to the social group.
Education and Social Rules
Durkheim argued that, in complex societies, school serves a function which cannot be fulfilled by either the family, which is based on kinship or friendship, which is based on personal choice, whereas being a member of wider society involves learning to get on with and co-operate with people who are neither our kin or our friends.
School is the only institution capable of preparing children for membership in wider society – it does this by enforcing a set of rules which are applied to all children, and children learn to interact with all other children on the basis of these shared rules – it thus acts like a society in miniature.
Durkhiem argued that school rules should be strictly enforced – with a series of punishments for those who broke the school rules which reflected the seriousness of the damage done to the social group by the child who broke the rules. Durkheim also believed that by explaining why punishments were given for rule breakers, children would come to learn to exercise self-discipline not only because of fear of punishment, but also because they could see the damage their deviant behaviour did to the group as a whole.
According to Durkheim social sciences such as sociology could play a role in making it clear to children the rational basis of social rules:
‘It is by respecting the school rules that the child learns to respect rules in general, that he develops the habit of self-control and restraint simply because he should control and restrain himself. It is a first initiation into the austerity of duty. Serious life has now begun’. (Durkhiem, Quoted in Haralambos, 2013).
Education and the Division of Labour
Durkheim argued that a second crucial function for education in an advanced industrial economy is the teaching of specialised skills required for a complex division of labour.
In traditional, pre-industrialised societies, skills could be passed on through the family, or through direct apprenticeships, meaning formal education in school was not necessary. However, factory based production in modern industrial society often involves the application of advanced scientific knowledge, which requires years of formal education to learn, thus schools become much more necessary.
Another factor which makes school necessary in modern societies (according to Durkheim) is that social solidarity in industrial societies is based largely on the interdependence of specialised skills – the manufacture of a single product requires the combination of a variety of specialists. In other words, solidarity is based on co-operation between people with very different skill sets – and school is the perfect place for children to learn to get on with people with different backgrounds.
Taking the above two points together, Durkheim argues that schools provide ‘the necessary homogeneity for social survival and the ‘necessary diversity for social co-operation’.
Evaluations of Durkhiem
Postmodernists might criticise Durkheim for his assumption that society needs shared values – Britain has become much more multicultural in recent decades, and the extent to which there is a single British culture is debatable – there are whole communities which are largely cut off from mainstream culture, as evidenced in the case of ethnic segregation in Oldham.
Marxists would be a bit more cynical about the relationship between school and work – according to Durkheim school is a neutral institution which simply transmits values and skills to individuals which enable the economy to run smoothly – according to Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle, this is a much darker process – school teaches working class kids to be passive, making them easier to exploit in later life.
Ken Robinson in his ‘changing education paradigms‘ talk makes a number of criticisms of the contemporary education system – he argues it’s failing too many kids.
Liberals such as Ivan Illich would even question the view that we need schools to transmit complex skills – In ‘Deschooling Society‘ he suggested that we could learn work related skills in a much more decentralised way, something which is even more possible today in the age of online learning.
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