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Sociological Theories of the Family

2. Functionalist Approaches

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In this module, we explore the concept of functionalism in relation to the family, the idea that society is a set of social institutions that perform specific functions to ensure continuity and consensus. In particular, we think about: (i) some of the basic 'functions' of the nuclear family (according to functionalists); (ii) the work of Talcott Parsons (1902-79) and his view of the social and economic function of the nuclear family; and (iii) criticism of the functionalist approach to the family.


In this course, Dr Vicki Harman (University of Surrey) explores the sociology of the family. In the first module, we think about the different ways in which we might define the word 'family', as well as considering some of the alternative concepts that have found currency in recent sociological research, e.g. 'household', 'personal life'. In the following three modules, we explore functionalist, Marxist, and feminist approaches to the family, before turning in the fifth module to consider how the nature of the family and of family life has changed over time. In the sixth and final module, we think about the concepts of 'family practices' and 'family display', including the work of David Morgan and Janet Finch.


Dr Vicki Harman is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Surrey. Her research interests include family life, motherhood and gender. She is co-editor of Feeding Children Inside and Outside the Home (2019) and Mothering, Mixed Families and Racialised Boundaries (2015), and author of The Sexual Politics of Ballroom Dancing (2018).

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APA style

Harman, V. (2021, August 23). Sociological Theories of the Family - Functionalist Approaches [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Harman, V. "Sociological Theories of the Family – Functionalist Approaches." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Aug 2021,

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