chapter  1
43 Pages

Varieties of functionalism

Introduction The functionalist perspective has had a long and controversial part to play in the development of sociological theory. For various reasons it appears to have been more deeply entrenched in the field of the sociology of the family than in some other sub-disciplines. Few textbooks of the family (or general text-books which almost invariably include a chapter on the family) fail to include a discussion of the functions of the family or a reference to the change in or loss of these functions. Thus, for example, the recent material developed for the Open University foundation course in the Social Sciences includes a comprehensive list of the functions of the family, although a footnote indicates some of the difficulties involved in a functional approach. 1 A widely adopted text-book, also used in conjunction with this Open University material, contains a similar account of the functions ofthe family.2 The juxtaposition of the words 'family' and 'function' appears almost inevitably irrespective of the degree of commitment or otherwise to an overall functionalist theory of Society. 3

My intention in this chapter is to consider the various functional approaches in so far as they have a bearing on the development of the sociology of the family, and I do not intend to consider at any length the wider controversies. I shall confine a general discussion to the provision of a few introductory distinctions.