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G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family

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Presentation on theme: "G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family"— Presentation transcript:

1 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
The anthropologist G.P. Murdock conducted a study entitled Social Structure in In this study of 250 societies of various types Murdock provided a definition of the family and a theory suggesting that the nuclear family was a universal social unit. Both G.P. Murdock’s definition of the family and his theory suggesting the universality of the nuclear family have subsequently been the subjects of considerable debate and controversy within Sociology.

2 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
G.P. Murdock’s definition of the family: A social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children, own or adopted, of the socially cohabiting adults. Murdock distinguished also between nuclear families[ parents and their children , own or adopted] and extended families [parents, children and other relatives]. Murdock argued also that “the nuclear family is a universal social grouping. Either as the sole prevailing form of the family or as the basic unit from which more complex forms are compounded, it exists as a unique and strongly functional group in every known society”.

3 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
Functionalist sociologists explain the existence of social institutions by the fact that they fulfil functions essential for the continued harmonious existence of society. Thus factories and banks exist because the fulfil economic and financial functions; schools fulfil educational functions; hospitals safeguard our health; and so on. In Functionalist terminology all of these institutions are said to be functional for societies: that is: they contribute to the continuing social stability and harmony of societies

4 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
According to G. P. Murdock the family in general and the nuclear family are also functional for society in that they fulfil the following essential functions. The Sexual Function The Reproductive Function The Educational Function The Economic Function

5 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
According to G. P. Murdock these functions can be fulfilled especially well within the nuclear family. The existence of the nuclear family provides for stable, more or less permanent heterosexual relationships between individual couples. If individuals were involved in many fairly temporary sexual relationships such relationships might be relatively emotionally shallow. The nuclear family provides a stable environment increasing the likelihood that there will be strong emotional bonds between parents and their children which means that the socialisation of the children is more likely to be effective. Economic roles within the nuclear family can be allocated effectively having regard to the differing psychological and physical characteristics of males and females respectively. Murdock was a supporter of the traditional gender division of labour within nuclear families

6 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
The universal existence of nuclear families is also seen by Murdock to be in accordance with what he believes to be the universal characteristics of human nature. Murdock believed that individuals naturally desire more less permanent heterosexual relationships within which they can produce their own natural children. Adults gain fulfilment both from these heterosexual relationships and as a result of the strong emotional bonds with their children which are sustained most easily in the nuclear family. These strong emotional bonds are conducive to the efficient socialisation of the children. Adult roles within the nuclear family can be allocated in accordance with natural gender differences in physical and psychological characteristics.

7 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
In G.P. Murdock’s definition of the family the family is based around socially approved heterosexual relationships. These relationships may be based upon monogamy, polygyny or polyandry. “Socially approved” heterosexual relationships could refer to a relationship based upon marriage or on cohabitation if it is socially approved in a given society at a particular time. Lone parents and their children would not be seen as families because they do not contain two or more adults in an approved sexual relationship. Childless heterosexual couples , married or cohabiting, would not be seen as families. Gay and lesbian couples, cohabiting or civil partnered, with or without children would not be seen as families. Friendship groups sharing a household would not be described as families .

8 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
Some Criticisms of G.P. Murdock’s Theory It is argued that several of the social groupings which would not be defined as families under G.P. Murdock’s definition might nevertheless be reasonably described as families. It is argued that the nuclear family is not a universal social group and that the essential functions of the family can be performed effectively in other family forms. In particular it is argued that children can be reared and socialised effectively in lone parent families and many would argue that single sex couples also can rear and socialise children effectively although others would dispute this. You should also use your textbooks to familiarise yourselves with family forms in other cultures. This diversity of family forms calls into question G.P. Murdock’s assumption that the nuclear family reflects most closely the requirements of human nature. Perhaps cultural diversity suggests that in several respects no single fixed version of human nature exists in all societies. Functions performed by families might also be performed in different ways in Communes and Kibbutzim. Use your textbooks to research these.

9 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
The American Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons has developed theories which are similar in several respects to those of G.P. Murdock and these theories will be considered in subsequent documents. In this respect you should find especially useful the slide show presented by Liam Greenslade of Mid Kent College

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