200 words each question

1-The family is a cultural universal because it meets very important needs for the society and the individual. Why do you think the family is so indispensable for the society and for individuals in the society? Please use the discussions in the reading and your own experiences and observations to discuss what you consider to be three of the most important functions of the family. Who met those needs for you? Which of the three you have chosen seems to present to biggest challenge for our modern families? Why do you think so?


2-Family forms and functions reflect the necessity to adapt to challenges. As society changes, families must change their structures as behaviors. [For example, immigrants find tremendous differences and many new challenges that they must respond to.] The readings have identified a variety of family structures and factors that have contributed to this diversity. Choose three diverse structures and add to the discussion of why these forms exist. Are any of these similar to your own family experiences? If so, discuss some important factors that have created this pattern. If not, discuss some important factors contributing to the differences between your family and these other forms. What kinds of advantages and/or disadvantages help to explain these differences?


If you quote sociologist William J Goode, you will get extra points.


****Will be posting a lot on this subject, looking to work with one teacher, someone who is very good at this subject/Sociology*****





Family Functions and

SOC 2634 Week 1 Lecture



Family and Society

• Cultural universal

• Major institution

• Adapts to surroundings and circumstances

The family is a major cultural institution. It is probably the first human institution.

It is essential to the survival of the group and the society. In the earliest

human societies cooperation was essential for successful procreation and survival.

Theoretical Perspectives

• Structural-functional

• Conflict

• Symbolic Interaction

Sociologists tend to look at the family and other cultural institutions from one of the

three major sociological perspectives:

•The structural-functional perspective looks at the functions of each major

institution. These institutions include the family, religion, education, the economy

and work, and politics. (Politics is defined by sociologists as “the exercise of power

in a social situation. In the case of the family they focus on the ways in which the

family contributes to the stability and functioning of the society as a whole.

•The conflict perspective focuses on the way in which the family creates and

sustains inequality in societies.

•The symbolic interaction perspective views society on the micro level (face-to-face

interaction) of the society. They are looking at the meanings and patterns of

interaction that emerge within the family. The form that a family takes and the

challenges they face have a large impact on the way in which the members of the

family interact and the expectations they have about what a family should be.

Structural-functionalism and the family

• Socialization

• Social placement

• Regulation of sexual activity

• Meeting material and emotional needs

The structural-functional perspective looks at the universality of the family as evidence of its
necessity for and contributions to the stability and productivity of the society as a whole. The
functions that they consider to be the most important are:

•Socialization: human beings are born dependent and remain dependent on others for a number of
years. (Think, for example, of all the discussion about when children are “old enough” to engage in
various activities and when it is that we are really “adults.” The answer varies across time and
cultures, of course, but these kinds of questions/considerations are always part of the process of
socialization. Human beings evolved to the point where we do not rely upon or even really have
instincts. For sociologists, socialization is what has replaced instincts and is the “process of
becoming human.” In terms of the family, for example, we often hear about a “mothering instinct”
in women. However, instinctual behavior is universal and there are many instances of mothers who
are judged to be “unfit” and, when you can find such exceptions, you know you are not dealing with
an instinct. Little girls are socialized from early in their lives to “cook” and to “take care” of dolls,
etc. Our society emphasizes “motherhood and apple pie” as “all American.”

•Social placement: because children are dependent and because of the importance of descent and
children as the future, it is critical in all societies for children to be a member of a family and for the
“caregivers” to be clearly identified.

•Regulation of sexual activity: in the earliest types of societies, it was important for a family to form
alliances with other families. Some sort of “incest taboo” is one of the mechanisms which restrict
sexual activity between certain kin. In this society we consider members of our immediate family to
be inappropriate sexual partners. This would include siblings, parents, grandparents, great-
grandparents etc. First cousins are also on this list.

•Meeting material and emotional needs: children must be “taken care of.” This nurturing includes
the basic food and shelter but also must address emotional needs. Parents are expected to “bond
with” and satisfy the emotional needs of their children.

Conflict Perspective and the Family

• Perpetuation of inequality

• Patriarchy

• Inheritance

• Cultural and social capital

• Economic conditions

The conflict perspective is all about who has power and how it is used. One interesting focus is on the
powerlessness of children in the family. Their dependency makes them very vulnerable to manipulation and
control. Women, too, are sometimes viewed as particularly vulnerable because of their relative inequality
within societies and within the family itself. The same is true for the elderly who become increasingly
vulnerable because of declines in their physical, mental, and economic conditio. Contemporary social problems
include domestic violence in the form of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of family members.

•Families perpetuate inequality because they reflect the inequality within a society as a whole. For example, this
is an increasingly individualistic and competitive society and the socialization of children reflects this. We hear
a lot about “sibling rivalry” and we also know that this individualistic approach to life contributes to the high
divorce rate in this society. In the past, couples often stayed married out of a sense of “duty.” This is much less
likely to be the case today. People “grow apart” and they have different ideas about what is most important.
There is a tendency to focus on one’s own needs at the expense of family stability.

•Patriarchy, or the control of the society by males, is the most common pattern. It is reflected in the family as
well. In earlier centuries, fathers were the “head of the household” and they even had control over the “life and
death” of family members. We still live in a patriarchal society but women have more say when they make an
economic contribution to the family. Housework and childcare are largely invisible since Industrialization took
men off the farm and into the factory (work world). Prior to that, all members of the family contributed to the
work on the farm.

•Cultural and social capital vary according to the economic standing of the family. Children are at an advantage
if they are born into wealthier families where the parents tend to have more cultural capital such as larger
vocabularies and more education. Social capital refers to the kinds of skills that the parents have. In addition
not only benefit from the knowledge and skills of their parents but also from the fact that these parents can send
them to better schools and connect them with people who may increase their opportunities and chances of

•Finally, the conflict perspective points out that the family must adapt and change in the face of changing
economic conditions. The extended family form declined once people had to move to cities to find work.
Families became smaller as geographical and economic mobility increased. Richard Sennett wrote a book
called The Hidden Injuries of Class which looks at the “American Dream” which involves the expectation that
our children will be “better off” than we are. However, when this successful upward mobility does happen, the
children often come to have different norms and values than the parents. The “injury” that results is to the
parents who may be proud of their children but no longer feel close to them They feel “inferior” to their own

Symbolic-Interaction Perspective

• Face-to-face interaction

• Emerging:

– Meaning

– Consensus

• Emotional bonds

• Micro level

The symbolic interaction perspective looks at how people interact and what the
results are. These sociologists are concerned with”

•Face-to-face interaction rather than institutions. They do not look at “the
American family” but rather patterns of interaction within individual families.
Current concerns include such things as how and why children become delinquent,
the impact of birth order on a child, the role of internet interactions on dating,
marriage, and divorce, the experiences of stepchildren in “blended” families, the
kinds of situations which increase the likelihood of domestic violence, etc. For
example, the article for Week 2 on grandparents in Ghana looks at particular
examples of what grandparents mean in that society.

•This perspective looks at the emergence of this meaning and at the type of
consensus which emerge through interaction. In general, people want interactions
to go smoothly and we all try to come to some sort of consensus or agreement about
what is happening, what should happen, and what is likely to happen next.

•Children become emotionally dependent upon their parents because they must rely
on them in order to survive. Spouses also bond. A good marriage includes
emotional support and general agreement about goals and priorities. This happens
over time as a result of continuing face-to-face interaction.

•Again, this is a micro level perspective that does not look the functioning of
institutions such as the family, religion, education and the economy but focuses on
the way in which our culture, our norms and values, are expressed and shaped by
direct interation.




Week 2—Part I
Basic Elements, Change and Diversity in the Family

Families vary dramatically across cultures, subcultures, and historical periods.

Earlier societies changed much more slowly and were much more homogeneous.

Once industrialization began, technology changed many things including the

structure of families. The United States is currently the most culturally diverse

industrial society and Japan is the least diverse. There is much less consensus about

family form and functioning in this society than there was in earlier centuries and

than there is in Japan and other more homogeneous societies.

Conceptual definitions of the family

• Institution

• Kinship

• Marriage

As a cultural universal, families have important elements that are found in all

families. These include:

•The family as an institution, all families are cooperative and function in order to

oversee the bearing and raising of children

•The idea of kinship, all societies and all families have definitions of kinship.

Kinship is based on blood (and, today, genes), marriage, adoption. In preindustrial

societies, blood was critically important. I remember being is a museum in

Germany where they had a “chastity belt.” This was a metal device that a woman

was forced to wear while her husband was away—trading or at war usually. This

was seen as a solution to the possibility that the woman could become pregnant by

another man. Once that kind of practice was abandoned, thank goodness, paternity

was never certain. Now we have “paternity” tests that can answer this age-old

question for anyone. This is an excellent example of how technology can change

the family. We can also point to birth control as a technology that has changed the

family. How has birth control changed families?

•Or, how do people decide who is a legitimate member of their family?

Cultural Diversity and Family Variation

Variation in family patterns:

• Family types:
– Nuclear

– Extended/consanguine

– Modern nuclear
• One or two parents and their children

– Blended nuclear or extended

– Families of affinity

The early hunting and gathering families were generally nuclear. Most of these societies were at

least somewhat nomadic because they had to go to where the plants and animals were and this varied

by the season. As people settled down and began to grow crops and/or herd animals the family

became more stable and grew to become the extended family. This pattern is still found in

agricultural environments. The extended family includes parents and children and other kin. This

could be grandparents, and the brothers and sisters of the parents and grandparents, etc. In Thailand,

for example, first cousins are also called “brothers” and “sisters.” This shows the importance of the

extended family to that society. With Industrialization the family tended to become nuclear again

and has tended to become single parent families. Families are more likely to have two parents when

there is an economic advantage. If only one parent works and the other does not contribute to the

economic survival of the family, marriages are less likely to occur or to persist. Also, the partner

that does not contribute economically is not seen as or may not see themselves as a “valuable”

member of the family. Blended families are much more common is this society now. That is the

remarriage of at least one of the parents and their children to another spouse. Sometimes both


have children.

This practice produces “stepparents” and “stepchildren.” Blended families

always have to cope with differing ideas and practices from their previous households. For example,

we often hear discussions about the appropriate role for a stepparent to play in relation to their

stepchildren. In general, the idea is not to try to replace or alienate the children from the absent


•Families of affinity are groups of people that do not have blood ties or legal standing but who

construct relationships through interaction. They choose to see themselves as belonging together and

as “family.” I have an “Aunt Jean” who is really my mother’s best friend. I also have some best

friends that a like family to me. In one case, the daughter calls me her “other mother.” This is

probably more likely for me since I am an only child married to another only child and we do not

have children.

Family variation (continued)

Power relationships

• Patriarchy vs. matriarchy

Marriage patterns

• Endogamy vs. exogamy

• Monogamy vs. polygamy


Families also vary in a number of additional ways:

•The most important dimension is probably the variation in power relationships.
The vast majority of cultural family forms are patriarchal. Most societies are
patriarchal and the family forms reflect that. In fact, statistics show that the family
form that is most likely to fall into poverty is the single-female-head-of-household

•Endogamy is marriage between people from the same social category. This can
include dimensions such as caste, estate or social class, race, ethnicity, locality, etc.
In modern societies endogamy is becoming less common because people move
around more (geographic mobility) and they often experience mobility in the
workplace. This workplace mobility can be up or down (vertical) or changing jobs
at the same level (horizontal).

•Polygamy is a type of marriage that incorporates at least three adults. Most
preindustrial societies have some sort of polygamy. The most common type is
polygyny which is a marriage in which the male has more than one wife.
Polyandry is the type of family in which the female has mode than one husband.
Both types have declined in modern times. This is in part a result of the fact that, in
industrialized societies, it is more difficult for one person to support more than one
spouse, a fact that is also reflected in the higher divorce rates. It is also true that
people are more individualistic and are exposed to a variety of cultural practices
from around the world. This trend means that monogamy, a form with only two
partners, has become much more common.

Family variation (continued)

• Residential variation
– Patrilocality

– Matrilocality

– Neolocality

• Descent
– Patrilineal

– Matrilineal

– Bilateral

Families also vary in terms of where the family will reside and how kinship is defined across

•Residential variation includes three basic patterns:

•Patrilocality means that the married couple will reside with or near the husband’s family.
This was true in Ireland in earlier centuries. However, the emigration of so many Irish to
this country was due not only to famine but to the fact that farms could only be divided a
few times to accommodate the needs of all the male children. When this became true, many
younger male children emigrated from Ireland.

•Neolocality is a cultural norm in which the married couple lives apart from both
sets of parents. This is what happened for many immigrants to this society. It is
also true when economic conditions make it more difficult for native children to
make a living near their parents. As a result, this is more common in industrial
societies. I was born in Southern California but came to Boston for graduate
school (at Northeastern). This is a typical choice today, one that is driven by
economic considerations.

•Matrilocality, of course, is a pattern in which the married couple lives with or near
the wife’s family. You can find a family form which is patriarchal and matrilocal.
The rarest form would be a matriarchal and patrilocal family pattern.

•In some traditional societies there is the expectation that the new couple will live
with either the husband’s or the wife’s family, thus preserving the extended family
while allowing economic considerations to enter into the decision.

•Descent, or decisions about how to trace kinship also vary. Each of these patterns
determines such things as responsibility for others and inheritance.

•Patrilineal families trace descent through males.

•Matrilineal families trace descent through females.

•Bilateral families trace descent through both females and males.

•Modern industrial societies tend to trace descent through both males and females.



•Since early human times, families have been changing because they must change

and adapt in order to survive. There were even many types of hunting and and adapt in order to survive. There were even many types of hunting and

gathering societies. In general, in those types of societies, the women gathered

edible plant materials and the men hunted. The women usually supplied a majority

of the calories consumed by the group. However, the Inuits who lived in a harsh,

cold, environment relied primary on hunting for their food, especially during the

winter months. They hunt seals. This meant that women played a much less

important role. For example, their job was to chew their husbands shoes to keep

them soft when they came back from the hunt.

•As societies became agricultural and the extended family became the norm, the

issues of where people should and how descent should be defined tended to be

patrilocal and patrilineal. However, there is at least once example of a societey in

which it was the mother’s brother that was responsible for the care of her children.

In this case, the model was patriarchal but matrilineal and matrilocal. The mother

stayed with her family of origin and her brother helped to raise the children, played

the role of male parent and the father was living with his own family and taking care

of his sister’s children.

•These are variations that occurred prior to industrialization. At that time societies

were very homogenous and members shared the same norms and values including



After Industrialization, social change accelerated and the types of pressures on
families changed. In the United States, the most diverse industrialized nation, there families changed. In the United States, the most diverse industrialized nation, there
is tremendous variation in family form based on social class, race, ethnicity, and
gender. Rapid social change forced change on families. They had to develop new
strategies for economic survival. Jobs were multiplying and changing and it
became increasingly important to live in a city in order to find employment.
Eventually industrial society was placed by postindustrial society and the service
sector began to dominate the economy. Service jobs tend to be “good jobs” or “bad
jobs” and people get stuck at one level of employment. Social classes became
much more separate with different life chances and different lifestyles.

•Social Class: modern American society is now one in which there is an increasing
gap between the rich and the poor. This gap was very large during the Golden Age
in this society and the last two decades or so have sometimes been called the “new
golden age.” Some say that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting
poorer and the middle class is disappearing. Whatever the case, middle class and
poorer families are having to face many challenges. For the middle class, home
ownership, the cost of education for children, health care costs etc. have becoming
increasingly difficult to accomplish and/or afford. The poor have been facing
increasing challenges. The dominance of the service economy has made it
increasingly difficult to find employment without a good education. Now, with the
economic downturn even the middle class is losing ground.

•Race and racism have had a dramatic impact on families. The reading provides
some interesting comparisons between African American families. Since slavery it
has been more difficult for African American men to find employment. Women
could find work as domestic workers etc. As more African Americans moved to
cities, industrial jobs became less available and have virtually disappeared from the
“inner city.” As employment opportunities declined, the divorce rate increased and
many people did not form families at all.


•Ethnicity or culture plays and important role in the shape that families take. Different ethnic
groups have different norms and values including beliefs about the role of other kin, the age groups have different norms and values including beliefs about the role of other kin, the age
of marriage, parenting responsibilities, parenting styles, etc.

•The big changes that have taken place in terms of gender mostly involve who works
outside the home, the number of hours worked outside the home, the time spent with
children, etc. Since the 19


0’s women have become more and more likely to work outside
the home and to work for longer hours. This change is largely a reflection of the increasing
difficulty of supporting a family on one income. The poor have always struggled with this,
and even during early Industrialization, immigrant families usually relied on wages from both
parents and even children. In Boston, for example, poor women worked as domestics or
ran boarding houses and had small stores. Now most middle class families have two
working parents or are single parent families. Women now work a “second shift” of
housework and we hear about “latchkey children.”


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