Assignment: Three Perspectives on Families and Households: Functionalism, Marxism, and Feminism

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Assignment:  Three Perspectives on Families and Households: Functionalism, Marxism, and Feminism

Families and Households may be analysed from several perspectives including Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory, the New Right and Postmodernism. This assignment focuses upon Functionalist, Marxist and Feminist perspectives.

  • Use the following list of words and phrases to fill in the gaps marked 1-43.
  • Also fill in more detailed answers  in the boxes as appropriate.


Talcott , Parsons, nuclear, stabilisation of adult personalities

 expressive, fair, just, democratic, four consensus.

 R.D. Laing, E. Leach, D. Cooper, ruling class ideology, patriarchal.

Economic base, superstructure, liberal, socialist, Marxist, radical,

Black, difference, extended, geographical, social, instrumental,

 harmony, stabilise, unequal, class-divided, Peter Laslett

 Michael Anderson, socialisation, norms, values., socialisation process

 Sexual, reproductive, economic, educational, socialisation of the young or primary socialisation, unjust.




Three useful perspectives for the analysis of Families and Households are the Functionalist, Marxist and Feminist perspectives.

  • Functionalist Theories

The Functionalist sociologist G. P. Murdock defined the family as;

Write Murdock’s definition of the family here



and claimed that it had—1—– main functions: the ——2———,———3——–,———4—— and the ————-5——– functions. A range of criticisms have been made of his analysis, including the following:

 Summarise criticisms of G. P. Murdock’s theory of the family here 










Another important Functionalist sociologist is——-6——— ——-7———–. He argues that the process of industrialisation encourages the growth of the —8————– family at the expense of the ———9——- family because industrialisation results in increased ——–10—– and  ——–11—————— mobility which results in the expansion of nuclear families. He also argues that the functions of the nuclear family have been reduced to: ———12———- and —————-13———-


He argues also that the traditional division of labour within the family is efficient because it reflects the qualities of what he calls the——14———— male and the——-15——— female. Finally he argues that in fulfilling these functions, the family helps to stabilise an overall social order which is——16——-, ——-17——— and——-18——–.


Several criticisms have been made both of –Functionalism in general and the Functionalist theory of the family in particular. Critics of Functionalism argue that it overstates the extent of ————-19——– and ——20————- in society and that the overall functionalist analysis of the ———–21———– process is flawed because it assumes that the socialisation process encourages the acceptance of shared——22—- and———23——— whereas Marxists and Feminists would argue that it encourages the acceptance of a —24———- ———— —————— and/or —–25—————- ideology each of which are harmful to the people being socialised. This general criticism can be applied also to the Functionalist analysis of the ——-26———— —————– as it operates in the family. Critics further argue that  males and females do not necessarily possess primarily instrumental and expressive qualities respectively as has been suggested in Talcott Parsons’ theory of the family..

It is also argued against the functionalist theory that it is historically inaccurate in its conclusion that industrialisation necessarily gave rise to the nuclear family. This debate can be followed in the work of ——–27—– —————– and —————-28 —————- and you should summarise it below.

 Write your summary of the conclusions of the two relevant authors here 









Further, in emphasising the social harmony which is assumed to exist within the nuclear family, it downplays the significance of “the dark side of the family” and the evidence of violence in the family. Analysis of these problems can be found in the work of

——-29——, ——30———- and ——-31———— and you should summarise their conclusions in the following box.



 Summarise the relevant authors’ conclusions here 








  • Marxist Theories

Marxist theories, similar to Functionalist theories, are also basically Structuralist but in Marxist theories an important distinction is made between the —————32—– ———— and the ————–33———- of capitalist societies and it is argued that far from benefiting its members and the organisation of society generally, it actually helps to —–34—- the capitalist system which is seen as an ——35———–, ———-36—–_——-37——– system. The Marxist theory of the family has been developed in the work of Engels and of Zaretsky

 Summarise Engels’ theory of the family here 



Summarise Zaretsky’s Theory of the Family here






There are also criticisms of Marxist Theories of the Family


 Summarise the main criticisms of Marxist theories of the family here 







  • Feminist Theories

Finally, it is probably Feminist sociologists who have most to say about the nature of family life. As you will have learned, there are varieties of Feminism including —–38————,————39———, ——-40—–, ——41————, ———42———— and —–43—- Feminism and each have their different analyses of family life although they do also have some points in common.

 Summarise the Liberal Feminist approach to the analysis of the family and state two criticisms of it hereSummarise the Marxist  Feminist approach to the analysis of the family and state two criticisms of it here

Summarise the Radical Feminist approach to the analysis of the family and state two criticisms of it here

Some Further Questions.

  1. How does Socialist Feminism differ from Marxist Feminism?
  2. What contributions to the analysis of Families and Households have been made by Black Feminists?
  3. How do Social Action approaches to the family help to explain family diversity?.
  4.  What can Postmodernism contribute to our understanding of family life?