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Research and patriarchal

Asked by kerry88 | Mar 11, 2008 | A Level > Sociology > Coursework
kerry88 asks:


Theres two things im stuck with, my teacher left last term and we have no teacher to help.

im just finishing my course work and can not find answers i need anywhere.

1. Quantative data is statistics and is liked by positivists,
But what about qualitative data ... its opinions and feelings but who likes it? From what i can remember it was interactionalists but i cant find anything to correct me or not ??

2. Patriarchal is male dominated ... matriarchal is women dominated ...
but is there a joint one that means its equal ?

( i know they have symmetrical and conjugal... meaning shared/equal )

Im doing about the patriarchal system within the family

Thanks for your time xx kerry

etutor answers:

I am sorry to hear that you have been without a teacher, and hope you will find these answers are what you are looking for.


Sociology is generally seen as a social science, and to some extent also employs the scientific method, though it is seldom possible to conduct direct experiments on human beings, and it is also remarkably difficult to hold all other factors constant when conducting an investigation and testing a hypothesis. Nevertheless, the sociological approach does have some claim to being scientific, and the ultimate aim of sociological research is not dissimilar to that found in the natural sciences. Society is a community of individuals; sociology studies the interaction between individuals, and between individuals and their environment. In most societies there is a broadly shared culture. The benefits of studying society are: we learn more about the factors that have shaped the modern world and our own identities; we can understand how systems and institutions work, and how they influence individuals; we can analyse key issues such as stratification, deviance, power, inequality and crime.

A key distinction in sociology is made between the positivist (macro) and the interpretivist (micro) approaches:

The macro approach (or positivist or structural) looks at systems, structures and institutions, viewing behaviour as largely the product of forces outside our control, and stresses common values and shared norms. The positivist approach believes that social phenomena are similar to natural phenomena, and so emulates the research methods used by natural scientists. So it looks at systems, structures and institutions, viewing behaviour as largely the product of forces outside our control. It argues that sociologists should study only what they can objectively see, measure and count, and so uses methods that generate quantitative data, aiming to arrive at social 'laws' that can explain the causes of events in the social world, and even to make predictions. The researcher should avoid personal involvement and aim to produce value-free evidence. Positivists thus value precision in measurement, and so focus upon the use of questionnaires, statistical analysis, standardised tests and structured interviews.

The micro (or interpretist or social action) approach, by contrast, focuses upon the interpretation of the world by individuals, and argues that sociologists must be able to identify with this view in order to understand an individual’s actions. It sees our behaviour as largely the product of choice. The interpretivist approach argues that social phenomena differ from natural phenomena, because individuals are active, conscious beings who act with intention and purpose because of the way in which they make sense of their social situation. Social phenomena do not exist independently of people, but are created by people who share an understanding of the situation. Research methods must therefore enable sociologists to get at these shared understandings, and so the stress is upon the influence of interaction with others (and thus with different subjective realities), and on how people manage social institutions. These methods generate qualitative data - in other words, data that express how people make sense of their social situations. The analysis is largely subjective, often focusing upon participant observation and open-ended interviews and discussions.

Both approaches are needed, since each cannot exist without the other – people can only make choices within a social framework. The macro approach is perhaps more akin to that used in physics or chemistry, since it seeks to be objective, and makes use of at least some of the techniques found in natural scientific research. Within the macro framework there are ‘consensus’ (functionalist and some Marxist) approaches, and conflict (some Marxist, Weberian and feminist theories) approaches. Within the micro framework there are interactionist and ethnomethodological approaches. Most sociologists, however, do not in practice fall neatly into one of the two categories. Researchers generally recognise that different approaches suit different subject matter, and that most social phenomena are bestr studied by using a combination of methods.

The functionalist approach starts from the view that society is a living organism, and so institutions must be studied not in isolation but in terms to their contribution to the wider society and to functions within that society. Sociologists such as Durkheim, Parsons and Merton argue that consensus and order are central to a stable society, and tend therefore to focus on economic, political and kinship sub-systems, as well as on the integrating community and cultural organisations which reinforce values and traditions, and which act as agents of socialisation. The benefit of this approach is that it enables societies to be compared and contrasted. The drawback is that in practice it is not really value-free and objective, since functionalists tend to have a conservative bias, and assume that individuals have little free will.

Marxist theory is, in the main, based upon the idea that institutions (especially the family, school and the workplace) socialise individuals to conform to society’s norms; it has this is common with functionalism. The key difference comes in the critique made of these agents of socialisation, which are seen as reinforcing elite rule, and thus unequal power and subordination. Often the emphasis is upon the conflict between the ruling class and ordinary people, and on the means through which such conflicts are resolved, or are perceived not to exist, or are even justified. This provides a useful contrast to the functionalist approach, in that it demonstrates that the same social phenomena can be interpreted in radically different ways, with Marxists placing great stress on inequalities in society as the principal way in which order is in practice maintained.

Criticism of macro methodology usually reflects a micro approach. Micro sociologists adopt an approach that is not system-based. Interactionism (or phenomenonogy) reflects a liberal philosophy, and focuses upon individual actors, seeing them as conscious beings, capable of shaping their environment. So we act out various roles, selecting words, gestures, behaviour and strategies that are appropriate for each social situation with which we are confronted. The social world is this a pattern of identity networks, which explains the differing ways in which an individual behaves in different social situations. It is wrong to label people as ‘deviants’, since this presupposes a value consensus – and ‘deviant’ behaviour may be quite normal within certain groups; it could thus be misinterpreted by an observer who is unaware of the group’s own norms. Becker argues that the sociologist must identify with one of the parties in any interaction being studied. The benefit of this approach is that it questions the assumption about the existence of objectivity in sociology, and reveals the danger of falling back too heavily on the received wisdom of the ‘giants’ such as Durkheim, Weber and Marx to explain all aspects of modern behaviour. It has contributed a great deal of value to debates about the deprived, powerless, and poor in society, as well as about criminal behaviour and the status of ethnic minorities


CONJUGAL ROLES are the different roles of males and females in the family or household, and the tasks associated with these roles.

Elizabeth Bott (1957) suggested that in most households, there are segregated roles, based upon a traditional separation by gender, and the product of a primary socialisation process (from birth) that ‘educates’ boys and girls to have different role expectations. Hence, the male is seen as the breadwinner, providing finance for the family, and thus allowing it to function. The male is also the authority figure, the role model for children, and the principal decision-maker. The female, by contrast, has the role of rearing and looking after children, providing emotional support for her husband and family, and doing the lion’s share of the domestic chores, such as cleaning, cooking and shopping. Talcott Parsons (1955) describes these segregated roles as ‘instrumental’ and ‘expressive’, and claims that the division is entirely natural. Both roles are needed for families to run smoothly. This view is often echoed on the left – for example, Dennis and Erdos (1992) argue that the father’s role as an authority figure is crucial, in order to maintain standards of discipline at home, and stability in society at large,

In some families (predominantly middle class) roles may be joint, based on a more equal sharing of decision-making, tasks and responsibilities between couples. The idea is associated with the research of Young and Willmott (1973). Largely on the basis of their finding that 72% of husbands claimed to do housework beyond the washing up, they argued that a symmetrical family was developing - i.e. the extent to which spouses shared domestic, work and leisure activities was becoming more equal, and hence a joint conjugal role was steadily replacing the traditional segregated roles. But research by Oakley (1974) and others shows that this is generally not the case – even where women are in paid employment, they continue to do the majority of housework, while their input into family decision-making is often confined to relatively minor decisions (such as holiday destinations) rather than major decisions (such as finance or the purchase of a new car). Boulton (1983) argues that surveys about housework seldom take into account the amount of time spent, and do not show the psychological experience of being in a relationship where the woman takes responsibility for caring, nurturing and developing children. Edgell (1980) tested Y and W's theory by looking at conjugal roles in 38 middle class households. None had joint conjugal roles with regard to housework, though nearly half did with respect to childcare. Men dominate decision-making in moving house, financial matters and the car. Women dominate decision-making in what are seen as more routine and trivial areas, such as domestic spending, children's clothes, washing and cleaning.

The British Social Attitude Surveys of 1984 and 1991 reviewed over 1000 families and concluded that there was more sharing of child-rearing than of household tasks. There was a small movement towards a more egalitarian division of labour over time. But repairing household equipment was the only task more likely to be undertaken by men than women. Jewell and others (1998) similarly found a small reduction in the gendered nature of washing and ironing. The Lancaster University survey (1990) looked at 323 professional households in the North West - in most cases both were working. It found that husbands did the lion's share of tasks concerned with home maintenance and improvement, while women did most of the routine household tasks, as well as most of the child care. Ferri and Smith (1996) looked at 2800 fathers and 3192 mothers over a period of several years. It was still very rare for the father to take primary responsibility for child care, and very rare indeed in dual income families, or families where neither was working. The man was the main carer in less than 4% of cases, even where only the woman went out to work. On the other hand, Giddens (1992) suggests that there has never been greater ‘democracy’ in the family than now, and that women’s lives and roles are far freer. Delphy and Leonard (1992) suggest that males remain dominant in practically all households; they ‘set the household agenda’, such that women do nott simply have domestic and childcare duties, but also fulfil an emotional and supportive role – through supporting the male in his work, arranging entertainment, and flattering their husbands to keep them happy!

In short, there is a gradual, though often barely perceptible move towards greater equality, especially in middle class households. There is certainly nowadays much more overlap of roles within many families, not least because about 75% of women between the ages of 16 and 59 are now in paid work, in the majority of cases on a part-time basis. Moreover there has been an increase in the number of extended families living together (or in close proximity) where the roles and responsibilities performed by family members are not solely confined to the married couple any more. The large increase in the number of lone parent families (the overwhelming majority of which are headed by a woman) also means that the female has to perform both of the traditional conjugal roles. Since the writing of Young and Willmott, much stress has been put on the idea of the ‘development’ of the nuclear family – through increases in the number of ‘symmetrical families’ where conjugal roles are shared, to more recent (e.g. Chester, 1985) arguments that the traditional nuclear family may not be the norm in terms of composition, BUT REMAINS THE NORM IN TERMS OF THE KEY POSITIVE FUNCTIONS IT FULFILS, despite the increase in family flexibility through cohabitation, remarriage, etc.

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