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Structural Functionalism from a Post-modern Perspective

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1787 words Published: 13th Aug 2021

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Jay, Lara and their children would be considered as a family. It is in examining the “institution” like the urban family and its wide range of issues and other intricate social arrangements where sociologists do most of their theorising. In sociology there are three broad areas of sociological study structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism and conflict theories (including feminism and postmodernism) but for the purpose of this paper structural functionalism will be looked at and critiqued by a post-modern perspective in terms of the context of Jay and Lara’s family.

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Structural Functionists would observe the role the family provides and the purpose that they perform. In investigating the different parts of society’s structure in relation to others, functionalists look at how different institutions contribute to the continuation and survival of the social system as a whole. The family operates in a society characterised by rules and these rules are ordered and reoccurring and these relationships occur throughout societies and can therefore be put under scientific rigor and testing in terms of a positivist quantitative outlook and this can be considered almost universal in application. So in simple terms the ‘institution’ of the family contributes to socialisation of new members of society as this is the rule or function the family provides to society.

Parsons (1951) argued the family plays a number of roles in socialisation of individuals. Two roles being key in Jay and Lara’s case are the socialisation of children into suitable values and norms. The other key point Parsons makes is the stabilisation of the adult personality through marriage which helps to cushion parents from the stresses and strains of day to day life. (These ideas will be discussed further later in terms of criminological theory). Jay and Lara are therefore the primary ‘socialisers’ of their children. They are (perhaps unwittingly) passing along a belief that crime does pay if Jay is to continue to offend and move back into selling drugs, also that it is usual to carry a knife to protect yourself in their neighbourhood. It would also suggest that the family as a buffer to stresses and strains is perhaps one more characterised by conflict than harmony as originally suggested by Parsons. Parsons theory has very little argument as to what makes a family dysfunctional and other family pathologies or to recognise a family different from the nuclear ‘American dream’ family of the 1950’s era.

Norms of family structure have changed overtime, and these changes in families can be thought of as the move toward a newer ‘post-modern’ idea of family. For example, Weston(1991: 3) argues that “Familial ties between persons of the same sex that may be erotic but are not grounded in biology or procreation do not fit any tidy division of kinship into relations of blood and marriage”. There is increasing variation in family types. It is not that the nuclear family has been replaced it is more so a case that individuals move in and out of different family types throughout the course of their lifetime.

Coontz (1992) has suggested central to these different ‘types’ of families are the decline of child rearing and marriage as central defining characteristics. These define less of a person’s identity and have less influence over the life course decisions and are no longer socially universal. The family is now, she suggests, characterised by greater freedoms to choose your own style of life. Leading individuals in either positive or negative directions as the family now presents less constraints to those who are a part of it. Post-modernism has tried to suggest that rather than a family serving a function in society it is more characterised by multiplicity, difference, particularity, locality, temporality, and the “scattered and shifting character of contemporary social processes” (Outhwaite 2002).

This can account for Jays change in behaviour from a family centric one with the success of the job, which could be argued by functionalists as a success of the family socialisation to buffer Jay from stresses and strains of his local community to one where his individuality has been expressed by losing his job, and heading out for himself with no regard for his family and the outcome of his actions would have had on them which holds to be a very post modern dilemma.

Writers and theorists with sociology disagree to the way actions of the state interfere with the family. Mclennan et al (2000) have noticed that modern families have come under state intervention more so than other periods in time. Some policy outcomes, such as the welfare state, have been seen as something that should be a function of the family rather than a function delivered by the government. Sociologists, however, do recognise that social policy can be an area which provides social change by changing individual behaviour (Wallerstein 1989). Jay and Lara and their family are affected directly by these policies but this paper shall look at family and child policies and how they affect social work and the family unit.

During the past 10 years there have been a lot of changes in government policy regarding children and families. With the introduction of ‘every child matters’ (HM Treasury 2003) which outlines how this agenda will restructure current services with multidisciplinary working and better information sharing, it also details how early intervention should be concentrated on. The ideas set out in every child matters suggests that early intervention is more cost effective and early prevention is possible because of the vast knowledge about risk factors and the negative impact these can have and that parenting is vital. The report also suggests that services such as social work fail to intervene in a positive way because they lack accountability and have not been sharing information well. The states policy is therefore one of a more active interventionist role in relation to children and their development. The sure start programme being an example of this and has been directly mentioned in the Conservative party Manifesto paying for more than 4500 new sure start workers and refocusing onto early intervention once more (Conservative Party website 2010).

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A further focus of Policy over the past 10 years has been to look at the role of parents. Parents have been suggested as the background for changes in anti-social behaviour and social exclusion. The state has also increased its role in parenting support asking local authorities to develop a parental support strategy and employ a single commissioner of parenting support services (family and Parenting Institute 2009). Further to this the Government committed itself to getting rid of child poverty by 2020 and halving it by 2010 (Conservative Party website 2010). This is due to the evidence from studies such as the millennium cohort study which followed 16 000 children and noted a difference in child performance based on socio economic status. Parents have also been called to be more involved with their Childs education including the hard to reach (Reynolds, 2006). This message is echoed in the Children’s Plan (2007) which states,

“Parents’ support for their child’s learning is an essential foundation for achievement. Parents told us they want to be more involved in their children’s education, and schools see the benefits of greater engagement with parents” (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2007a, p53).

To achieve this, direct transfers to families through benefits and tax credits have increased, focusing particularly on low-income families in employment. These have been accompanied by measures aiming to raise the employment rate among parents. Lone parents have been singled out as a target group for welfare reform, alongside measures to improve childcare availability and affordability. There has also been a major expansion in maternity leave provision, along with the introduction of the right for parents to request flexible working, in an attempt to make it easier for parents to balance work and family responsibilities. The final section of this report focuses on shifting family forms and family relationships, and the state’s role in helping couples to stay together and to parent their children after separation. Many challenges still remain in family policy, such as: integrating adult and children’s services to meet families’ needs; ensuring families have access to both good universal services and specialist ones; achieving child poverty targets; and creating real choice for parents in how they balance paid work and family responsibilities. The changes of the past 10 years have taken place against a background of national economic prosperity. The current recession is imposing new challenges on both families and public services, and even if the recovery is quick, the context for the next decade will be one of high public debt.

It can be seen that the current conservative government hold that the family function is on that needs to be upheld. The previous labour government taking a more liberal (postmodern) view and less moral overtone to the ideas of family as can be seen with the policies introduced pre conservative government such as a focus on tax breaks and increasing resources being moved to low income families regardless of their married or unmarried status. With the new administration it may be argued that a more functional view of the family situation will be adopted where the ideal of the nuclear family as suggested by Parsons (1951) will be supported. The role of the social work will be therefore to protect these family institutions. Interestingly in light of the recent review of child protection after the Baby p case Henricson (2007) pointed out there was too much focus on structures and procedures and less emphasis on well trained social workers and other professional’s with appropriate caseloads. Allowing them to fully understand the family situation and use their professional judgement in a more appropriate way.

In reality practice is however fraught with resource limitations and need to provide help to those already in crisis rather than early intervention. In ‘Building Britain’s Future’ the Prime minister promises a move from ‘a system based primarily on targets and central direction to one where individuals have enforceable entitlements over the service they receive’ (Prime minister 2009, p18). This could have a great impact on Social Work services and service provision.


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