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culture & socialisation

Asked by zoeeee | Nov 28, 2007 | AS Level > Sociology > Homework
zoeeee asks:

Please can you help me with these two essay questions i have been given,i dont know what to include and im finding them hard!thankyou.

1. Identify and explain two ways in which family organisation may vary between cultures in the contemporary UK. (15 marks)

2. Outline and discuss the view that the traditional nuclear family is both natural and desirable (30 marks)

etutor answers:

These two questions are really linked.

1. Identify and explain two ways in which family organisation may vary between cultures in the contemporary UK. (15 marks)

2. Outline and discuss the view that the traditional nuclear family is both natural and desirable (30 marks)

There are problems in defining 'family'. It is not a single common object, but instead a variety of different practices, with different sixes, roles and internal relationships. There have been many changes in family structures in recent decades. The traditional nuclear 'cereal packet' family is still the most common, but there are many others, and so this type of family - married parents and two children sharing the same home - is now far less common, and a variety of other family structures exist. These include:
- Traditional extended families - three generations or more in the same house
- Couples without children, or where the children have now left home
- Reconstituted families - families that have step relationships (or containing children from more than one relationship)
- Lone parent families - one adult and one or more children (the result of divorce, separation, or through choice)
- Cohabitation families - where people live together without being married
- Same-sex families - based upon homosexual or lesbian relationships
- Families where the children have foster parents/have been adopted
- Single households (growing rapidly in number)

These developments reflect all sorts of changes - economic, moral/religious, legal, changes in the structure of the population, changes in social security arrangements, different expectations of marriage, access to contraception and abortion, 75% of women now working, etc.
It is often difficult to argue that the traditional nuclear family is both natural and desirable, since practically all the trends and statistics point in the other direction! It would be impossible to argue that the conventional nuclear family is the norm among households – today, it accounts for only 21% of households (though about 45% of families). The broader the definition of the family, the lower the % - so, for example, Murdock’s traditional definition (adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, with one or more children of the sexually cohabiting adults) gives a higher % than a wider definition (such as a social unit made up of people who support each other socially, economically, psychologically, or sexually) since the latter would then include childless couples, unmarried couples with children (including step-children) and same sex couples, However you define families/households, you cannot argue that the conventional nuclear family is the norm. Of the 25 million UK households nearly two thirds are made up of only one or two people.

Sociologists from the Functionalist school, such as Murdock and Parsons, argue that the family performs a number of different roles for individuals and for society. These include:
- psychological: the family is a biological product of individuals' needs - hence it provides for these essential needs, such as comfort, security, and emotional attachment
- sexual: families provide new members to allow society to continue (production and rearing of children)
- reproductive: the family allows sexual expression to be stable, by regulating and creating laws and guidelines about who we can enter into sexual relationships and when
- economic: the family provides for its members
- educational: the family is the means through which society's norms are taught and internalised (the primary socialisation of children and the stabilisation of the adult personality)

This approach suggests that the nuclear family is the most functional family type since it is most suited to performing these functions, which in turn ensures social order. Without such families, there would be no order or stability in society. Other sociologists take a different view. Interactionists claim that families are not fixed or static, but rather that relationships within the family evolve through practice; hence different roles suit different people and circumstances, and so a wide variety of family structures is both possible and desirable. Feminists argue that the traditional family is characterised by patriarchy, and thus the exploitation of women. They see the functionalist view of the family as ideological, and a means of justifying unequal conjugal roles and male oppression that often extends to abuse.Post-modern families, by contrast, allow for more choice and diversity, are not fixed by past traditions, and offer new ways for individuals to live and to relate to each other. In general, in all types of family, women have greater legal rights and greater independence - particularly wherever they are in paid work. Hence, nowadays the family is a variety of different practices, with different sizes, roles and relationships. This means that the functionalist 'ideology of the family' (married couple and two children) may be inappropriate in many cases. In particular, Marxists and feminists argue that the ideology of the family is distorted, damaging and limiting, hiding the true nature of life in many modern families. They object also to the implied assumption (often found in the media) that the traditional nuclear family is somehow superior to other types of family. Hence assumptions that are often taken for granted can readily be challenged - that families are natural, that family life is normal, that families should have opposite sex parents, that women should care for children, and that too many single parents will lead to a breakdown in society. So Marxists see the traditional family as a source of social control, unlike functionalists who see it as the social cement of a stable society. Feminists see society as patriarchal, and the family as a means of controlling and subordinating women; traditional families socialise us with gender roles that themselves reflect and reinforce patriarchy.

Hence the interaction within families nowadays depends upon the nature of the family; it follows that there are no universal primary socialisation features, and that families have a mixture of arrangements, functions and roles within them. There are various types of diversity - in particular, organisational (different family structures and ascribed roles within them), cultural (key influence of ethnicity and religion in determining lifestyles), social class (differing expectations of, and access to, life chances). Post-modernist theory is currently very fashionable - it develops these themes, and observes that postmodern families allow for more choice, are not bound by past traditions, and offer new and diverse ways of living and relating to each other. Hence families are not 'things', but rather 'practices' - they are ways of thinking about how we interact with other people, and of determining what our roles mean.

Hence the suggestion that the traditional nuclear family is both 'natural and desirable' depends on the definition of family adopted, as well as on the sociological school of thought that you prefer.

I hope this is helpful.

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