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Introduction to Sociology

1. The three major theoretical approaches look at the family differently. Discuss similarities and differences among these approaches. Although the family is universal, domestic life does not assume a uniform pattern of social organization in all societies. According to Kornblum (2007), there are three major theoretical approaches that look at the family differently. These are the Interactionist Approach, the Conflict Approach and the Functionalist Approach. The Interactionist Approach Interactionists focus on the microlevel of family and other intimate relationships.

They are interested in how individuals interact with one another, whether they are cohabiting partners or long-time married couples. For example, a study of both Black and White two-parent households found that when fathers are more involved with their children (such as reading, helping with homework, restricting television viewing) children have fewer behavior problems, get along better with others, and are more responsible. Another interactionist study might examine the role of the stepparent. The increased number of single parents who remarry has sparked an interest in those who are helping to raise other people’s children.

Studies have found that stepmothers are more likely to accept the blame for bad relations with their stepchildren, whereas stepfathers are less likely to accept responsibility. Interactionists theorize that stepfathers (like most fathers) may simply be unaccustomed to interacting directly with children when the mother isn’t there. The Conflict Approach Conflict theorists view the family not as a contributor to social stability, but as a reflection of the inequality in wealth and power found within the larger society. Feminist

theorists and conflict theorists note that the family has traditionally legitimized and perpetuated male dominance. Throughout most of human history—and in a very wide range of societies—husbands have exercised overwhelming power and authority within the family. Not until the “first wave” of contemporary feminism in the United States in the mid-1800s was there a substantial challenge to the historic status of wives and children as the legal property of husbands. While the egalitarian family has become a more common pattern in the United States in recent decades— owing in good part to the activism of feminists beginning

in the late 1960s and early 1970s—male dominance within the family has hardly disappeared. Sociologists have found that women are significantly more likely to leave their jobs when their husbands find better employment opportunities than men are when their wives receive desirable job offers. And unfortunately, many husbands reinforce their power and control over wives and children through acts of domestic violence. Conflict theorists also view the family as an economic unit that contributes to societal injustice.

The family is the basis for transferring power, property, and privilege from one generation to the next. The United States is widely viewed as a “land of opportunity,” yet social mobility is restricted in important ways. Children “inherit” the privileged or less-than privileged social and economic status of their parents (and, in some cases, of earlier generations as well). As conflict theorists point out, the social class of their parents significantly influences children’s socialization experiences and the protection they receive. This means that the socioeconomic

status of a child’s family will have a marked influence on his or her nutrition, health care, housing, educational opportunities, and, in many respects, life chances as an adult. For that reason, conflict theorists argue that the family helps to maintain inequality. The Functionalist Approach From the functionalist approach, the family evolves in both form and function in response to changes in the larger social environment. There are six paramount functions performed by the family, first outlined more than 65 years ago by sociologist William F. Ogburn: 1. Reproduction.

For a society to maintain itself, it must replace dying members. In this sense, the family contributes to human survival through its function of reproduction. 2. Protection. Unlike the young of other animal species, human infants need constant care and economic security. The extremely long period of dependency for children places special demands on older family members. In all cultures, it is the family that assumes ultimate responsibility for the protection and upbringing of children. 3. Socialization. Parents and other kin monitor a child’s behavior and transmit the norms, values,

and language of a culture to the child. 4. Regulation of sexual behavior. Sexual norms are subject to change over time (for instance, changes in customs for dating) and across cultures (Islamic Saudi Arabia compared with more permissive Denmark). However, whatever the time period or cultural values in a society, standards of sexual behavior are most clearly defined within the family circle. The structure of society influences these standards. In male-dominated societies, for example, formal and informal norms generally permit men to express and enjoy their sexual desires more freely than women may.

5. Affection and companionship. Ideally, the family provides members with warm and intimate relationships and helps them feel satisfied and secure. Of course, a family member may find such rewards outside the family—from peers, in school, at work—and may perceive the home as an unpleasant place or even abusive setting. Nevertheless, unlike other institutions, the family is obligated to serve the emotional needs of its members. We expect our relatives to understand us, to care for us, and to be there for us when we need them. 6. Providing of social status.

We inherit a social position because of the “family background” and reputation of our parents and siblings. The family unit presents the newborn child with an ascribed status of race and ethnicity that helps to determine his or her place within a society’s stratification system. Moreover, family resources affect children’s ability to pursue certain opportunities such as higher education and specialized lessons. The family has traditionally fulfilled a number of other functions, such as providing religious training, education, and recreational outlets. Ogburn argued that other social institutions have gradually assumed many of these functions.

Although the family once played a major role in religious life—Bible reading and hymn singing commonly took place at home—this function has largely shifted to churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations. Similarly, education once took place at the family fireside; now it is the responsibility of professionals working in schools and colleges. Even the family’s traditional recreational function has been transferred to outside groups such as Little Leagues, athletic clubs, and Internet chat rooms. 2. Describe Robert Mertons explanation of deviance and the typology of deviant behavior.

Merton’s Theory of Deviance What do a mugger and a teacher have in common? Each is “working” to obtain money that can then be exchanged for desired goods. As this example illustrates, behavior that violates accepted norms (such as mugging) may be performed with the same basic objectives in mind as those of people who pursue more conventional lifestyles. On the basis of this kind of analysis, sociologist Robert Merton (1968) adapted Durkheim’s notion of anomie to explain why people accept or reject the goals of a society, the socially approved means of fulfilling their aspirations, or both.

Merton maintained that one important cultural goal in the United States is success, measured largely in terms of money. In addition to providing this goal for people, our society offers specific instructions on how to pursue success—go to school, work hard, do not quit, take advantage of opportunities, and so forth. What happens to individuals in a society with a heavy emphasis on wealth as a basic symbol of success? Merton reasoned that people adapt in certain ways, either by conforming to or by deviating from such cultural expectations.

Consequently, he developed the anomie theory of deviance, which posits five basic forms of adaptation Conformity to social norms, the most common adaptation in Merton’s typology, is the opposite of deviance. It involves acceptance of both the overall societal goal (“become affluent”) and the approved means (“work hard”). In Merton’s view, there must be some consensus regarding accepted cultural goals and legitimate means for attaining them. Without such consensus, societies could exist only as collectives of people—rather than as unified cultures—and might experience continual chaos.

Of course, in a varied society such as that of the United States, conformity is not universal. For example, the means for realizing objectives are not equally distributed. People in the lower social classes often identify with the same goals as those of more powerful and affluent citizens yet lack equal access to high-quality education and training for skilled work. Moreover, even within a society, institutionalized means for realizing objectives vary. For instance, it is legal to gain money through roulette or poker in Nevada, but not in neighboring California.

In Merton’s typology, the “ritualist” has abandoned the goal of material success and become compulsively committed to the institutional means. Work becomes simply a way of life rather than a means to the goal of success. An example is the bureaucratic official who blindly applies rules and regulations without remembering the larger goals of an organization. Certainly this would be true of a welfare caseworker who refuses to assist a homeless family because their last apartment was in another district. The “retreatist,” as described by Merton, has basically withdrawn (or “retreated”) from both the goals and the means of a society.

In the United States, drug addicts and vagrants are typically portrayed as retreatists. There is also growing concern that adolescents addicted to alcohol will become retreatists at an early age. The final adaptation identified by Merton reflects people’s attempts to create a new social structure. The “rebel” feels alienated from dominant means and goals and may seek a dramatically different social order. Members of a revolutionary political organization, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or right-wing militia groups, can be categorized as rebels according to Merton’s model.

Merton’s theory, though popular, has had relatively few applications. Little effort has been made to determine to what extent all acts of deviance can be accounted for by his five modes. Moreover, while Merton’s theory is useful in examining certain types of behavior, such as illegal gambling by disadvantaged “innovators,” his formulation fails to explain key differences in rates. Why, for example, do some disadvantaged groups have lower rates of reported crime than others? Why is criminal activity not viewed as a viable alternative by many people in adverse circumstances?

Merton’s theory of deviance does not answer such questions easily. Still, Merton has made a key contribution to the sociological understanding of deviance by pointing out that deviants (such as innovators and ritualists) share a great deal with conforming people. The convicted felon may hold many of the same aspirations that people with no criminal background have. This helps us understand deviance as socially created behavior, rather than as the result of momentary pathological impulses.

Works Cited Kornblum, W. (2007). Sociology: In a changing world, 8th edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

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