Professor Marshall

LESSON 4: Theories we use to Study the Family

Incorporating the Major Theories: Using Functional, Conflict and Interaction Theories to Study the Family

Functional Theory

Recall that functional theories work at the MACRO level, meaning that they are concerned with the structural forces that assist with your conformity to group norms. Functional theories also seek to define how the family functions for society. One of the most influential functional theorists of the mid-1900s in America (and worldwide, for that matter) was Talcott Parsons.

Parsons' Instrumental-Expressive Model

Parsons believed that the family must function according to specific roles in order to support the structure of society:

Parsons' Instrumental Expressive Model

It is important to note that this theory was developed in 1955-life was much different then, in America in general, as well as in our families.

The Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, and the GLBTQIA Movement have all helped us to see that the FUNCTIONAL view has some significant flaws (dysfunctions).

Conflict Theory

Again working at the MACRO level, conflict theories focus on what is happening in the structure that impacts the family. Conflict theorists believe that the family reflects what is happening in society: when gender roles are rigid, expectations are that roles will be replicated and followed in the home (much like Parsons' Instrumental Expressive model above). Conflict theorists assert that this causes a power imbalance within the home as well as in other social institutions. Workplace discrimination is a good example of how views about gender within the structure may have been created in the family, and continue to be replicated in the workplace.

Interaction Theory

Recall that interaction theories work at the MICRO level, and with regard to the study of the family, focus on what is happening in the family as it pushes back against the structure to create new meanings about family life. This allows us to see how family dynamics help to change (or reinforce) the structure. For example, when non-traditional roles are taken by family members, the structure (eventually) must respond by adapting or changing:

  1. When dads stay home and moms enter the workforce, children see gender roles that are different than the norm
  2. These messages get transmitted over time and the structure adapts

The Influence of the Early Feminist Movement

The First Wave

While the first documented published works of the contemporary feminist movement are from the 1600s (during the Enlightment), there is a body of work from First Wave feminists, circa mid-1800s, which expressed that many Western women were unhappy with the limitations of their roles as "true women." Historically, the Cult of True Womanhood told women to:

  • Pious-women without religion were immoral
  • Pure-women must protect selves from men; greatest treasure is virginity!
  • Submissive-Do what your husband says, even if you don't want to
  • Domestic-clean the house, and make the food

You don't need to spend a lot of time thinking about the above list to understand why women might be unhappy about their "place" in society!

The First Wave—REVOLT!

The Seneca Falls Convention was advertised as "a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman". For two days in mid-1848, it was the first women's rights convention. There were several sessions held, including much discussion about the role of women in society.

Two documents came out of the Seneca Falls Convention:

  • The Declaration of Sentiments
  • A List of Resolutions

There was also a debate about suffrage, and while the debate was a passionate plea for attendees to vote for women's right to vote, only 100 of approximately 300 attendees signed the document.

Seneca Falls was viewed as an important step for women in their efforts to gain a greater proportion of social, civil and moral rights; it was a starting marker for the contemporary struggles by women for equality. The Declaration of Sentiments became "the single most important factor in spreading news of the women's rights movement around the country in 1848 and into the future," stated by historian Judith Wellman.

From the Seneca Falls Convention, annual women's conventions were held, every year until the Civil War in 1861.