Although the family is universal, domestic life does not assume a uniform pattern of social organization in all societies. Family types differ as much as the separate cultures in which they exist. As products of Western culture we can scarcely imagine life in the polygamous families of the Australian aborigines, in the arranged-marriage system of classical China, or in the patriarchal pattern of Old Testament families. Hence, different societies have different types of families. Which among the various family types met its society’s needs? What family type is more logical?
Before we can proceed with our investigation on which family type is more logical, we need to define this institution as exactly as we can. Generally speaking, social scientists divide into two camps when they define the family. The functional camp defines the family by what the group does, while the substantive camp focuses on what the family is, in organizational terms. Families come in more varieties than the legendary Heinz soups – a fact that makes them hard to define. Social scientists seek a definition which will cover typical as well as extreme family types.
The functional approach to defining the family concentrates on essential family activities which distinguish this social institution from others. Once a unique set of activities is identified, all groups carrying on these functions can be defined as families. George P. Murdock (1989) was one of the early leaders in developing the functional definition of the family. In his classic study, Social Structure, he listed four universal functions of nuclear families: procreation, sexual relations between marriage partners, cooperative economic activities, and the socialization of children.
Accordingly, he defined the family institution as “… a small kinship structured group with the key function of nurturant socialization of the newborn. ” The organization of this “kinship structured group” is open-ended, emphasizing the socialization function. A single mother and child, a single father and child as well as several generations living together, would all qualify as families as long as the group participated in the nurturant socialization of the newborn (Schaefer, 2006). Substantive definition of the family focus on patterns of social organization and the roles existing within this organization.
Thus, the family is seen as a specialized social group, and its corresponding social roles are fixed to positions created by its unique organization. One definition typical of the sustentions approach is that: “A family system exits in any society in which the related positions of mother, farther and children are recognized and shared notions” (Bell and Vogel, 1998). Note that this definition does not mention group activities. Instead, it emphasizes several interlocking social positions. These positions – mother, father, and children-form the organization.
A group constituted on the parental role will remain a family, whether or not similar functions are performed by other individuals or social groups (Schaefer, 2006). Main Part Definitions do not stand alone. They represent important elements set within broader theoretical analysis. Every field of study must have a theoretical perspective in which to interpret the bits of information gathered in its research. These theoretical approaches are important for the study of family, as well as the viewpoints on the question we are trying to answer.
Partly because of concerns about the effects of social change on family and partly because the family is confronted with a number of problems, most research in the area of family has been problem oriented. It has been estimated that for every 100 studies investigating families only 1 has been of a positive nature whereas 99 have been concerned with problems Hundreds of studies have yielded a steady supply of facts. Until relatively recently, in fact, family research was long on facts but short on theory.
Recently, however, the field of family has generated theories of its own in addition to using existing theories to good advantage in explaining contemporary family life and expected trends (Schaefer, 2006). In a recent review of family theories, Hollman and Burr (1990) suggest that there are three kinds of theoretical analysis currently judged to have a major impact on our understanding of issues of family. These theoretical schemes are: the symbolic interaction analysis, social-exchange analysis, and the general systems analysis (Schaefer, 2006).
Many family theorists believe that symbolic interaction may be the most influential heory, because of the number of research projects employing this approach. Three concepts are prominent in the analysis of the symbolic interactionists: symbolic meaning, role, and reference group. According to Herbert Blummer, a leading figure in the symbolic interactionist school, people relate to social objects and events largely in terms of the meanings of those objects or events. Rather than being fixed, however, meaning is constructed and reconstructed in the daily interactions of persons (Schaefer, 2006). Symbolic interactionists use the term social role to mean a mutually recognized set f behavioral expectations for a person of a particular status.
For example, mother and father are two status positions within the family’s social organization. People behave in these roles according to generally accepted norms and expectations and in response to others who are affected by their behavior. Nonetheless, social roles are not rigid prescriptions for social conduct, which people must obey willy-nilly. Interaction also includes an interpretative process through which people modify their role performance to fit particular situations (Schaefer, 2006).
People acquire their individual role behavior through their contact with others in various reference groups. A reference group is any group which helps us define one or more of our social roles, and which helps us evaluate ourselves or form attitudes. Familiarity with a reference group’s point of view is critical for individual conduct, for it allows us to adopt the group’s perspective, modify our own behavior, and “see ourselves as others see us. ” Symbolic interactionism is particularly well suited to the analysis of the family.
This institution is a small group suitable to the microsocial focus of this theoretical analysis. Moreover, the family is the group in which we acquire our initial social roles, experience socialization, and form strong emotional ties. Social-Exchange analysis has grown in popularity in the past decade. It has been suggested that exchange theory has the potential to be the “grand, all-encompassing” framework that has so far been elusive (Blummer, 1999). At the risk of oversimplifying a complex theoretical orientation, we can say that exchange theory basically emphasizes the concepts of rewards and costs in any interaction.
Structural functional analysis has been the dominant school of sociological analysis for most of this century (Zinn and Eitzen, 2005). Functional analysis assumes that social facts or events should be examined in terms of their effects on society. Functionalists would ask: What does the family do for society? What are the results, for society and individuals, of our kinship system? More so, this would also ask my topic question, what family type is the most logical? These questions clearly aim to determine how social life is influenced by such factors as cultural norms, organizational structures, and social processes.
Moreover, functional analysts tend to view society as a system made up of many parts that depend upon each other. Change in one segment of the social order may profoundly affect other units of society. Integrating such actions is viewed as a major system problem which citizens and leaders of social institutions must continually confront. Functionalists believe that the sources of social solidarity are the cultural norms and values of a national group. Norms not only shape basic social order, but also motivate individuals to fulfill social roles essential to a stable society.
The question of social norms reveals an important feature of functionalism. Its focus is on collective social life and the beliefs, structures, and social processes that define the situation in which an individual acts. To be sure, members of a family are not seen as mere pawns moved about by more powerful social forces. Change can be undertaken by individuals. However, functionalists insist that society has impressive ways of exercising social control and that people usually conform to the norms and roles within the social order.
Functionalism has penetrated so deeply into the social sciences that one must include this body of research to produce a comprehensive survey of the subfield of family (Schaefer, 2006). Conclusion What is the most logical type of a family, then, is a matter of personal morality and lies at the center of the contemporary “family values” debate (Schaefer, 2006). Today we find multiple family types in which individual members must attempt to chart their ways in unfamiliar territory.
The old rules do not often suit the new lifestyles, but there are no new, uniformly accepted models to guide us toward warmth and intimacy while still allowing us to retain individuality. There are currently a great many types of families in the world that seem to function at least somewhat satisfactorily. This is apparently has always been true. The standards against which so many critics of current family life measures the family’s deterioration seem to be derived from unrealistic ideals rather than from careful observations of historical social reality.
Thus, many family-life specialists believe that a family can adapt to changing economic conditions and changing values. But the strength of the family as an institution does not mean the divorce rate will decrease rapidly or families that experience severe stress due to unemployment, ill health, and the like will have an easier time remaining intact. Thus sociologists who do research on the family will continue to find that there is still a need for more information about family.