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Essay: Exploring Socialisation through Functionalist & Marxist Perspectives: Examining the Family & Workplace’s Impact

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This essay will explain socialisation from the Functionalist and Marxist Perspectives, whilst acknowledging Feminism and primarily focussing on the theorists Emile Durkheim, George Murdock and Karl Marx. The Family agent will be discussed in detail as well as the work place through the perspectives. Gender specific roles, inequalities and how they impact on contemporary Western society will be evaluated as well as explaining the differences between cultural value systems in society.

Socialisation is the process by which individuals acquire social skills, core values and understand the fundamental rules set by society which will allow them to integrate. Sociologists believe that the process starts at birth and continues through-out life, learning behaviours based on surroundings and influences from key figures, this is commonly known as Primary socialisation.

Primary socialisation is the first of two phases; it is typically experienced within the family and is the most intense period of cultural learning. Family is the principle agent because children spend the majority of time with their primary carers, learning their hierarchy’s behaviours and skills, exposure to emotions and learning the difference between right and wrong, to name but a few. This learning plays an important role on the development of a child’s personality and identity. Functionalism is a conservative approach, believing that nuclear families add the most value to society because it provides all the essential requirements that society needs to function. According to George Murdock:

‘It exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every known society … Whatever ever larger family forms may exist … the nuclear family is always recognisable and always has its distinctive and vital functions – sexual, economic, reproductive and educational…’

(Swale 2012 page 6)

Whereas other family types such as, single parent and same sex are not universal and cannot positively sustain in society according to Functionalists and Murdoch in particular as they do not have all of the vital functions, for instance being able to reproduce. Alternatively Marxists sociologists believe in many different family types, like single parent and same sex and believe that society would still function as long as individuals had core values. Secondary socialisation is the second phase, this learning takes place after infancy and into maturity, allowing individuals to learn specific attitudes and norms required to fit into society and small social groups, this phase may include learning in schools and the work place. (Boundless 2015)

Functionalism is considered to be a major theoretical perspective in socialisation, Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons were key theorists in the founding’s and development of it. They strongly believed that social order can only be achieved through the existence of shared culture and all individuals adhering to a set of shared rules that society have put in place, this is better known as equilibrium. Functionalists promote this as it brings positivity, solidarity and stability to society; known as a value consensus. Marxism are critical of the Functionalist perspective and believed that individuals should have the opportunity to live their lives without the intrusion of other influences and rules enforced by society which exploit, alienate and divide people according to meritocracy. Karl Marx laid the foundations for Marxism, in which the theory promotes capitalism and believed that society was ruled by meritocracy and the bourgeoisie. Nepotism was popular amongst the bourgeoisie, granting privileges without regard to merit. Marx said that society was deceived into striving for status, capital class and living within a Functionalist ideological society. Fredrich Engles a renowned traditional Marxist said:

“A capitalist machine, the state of capitalists, the ideal for personification of the total national capital”

(Swingewood 2000 page 52)

Ultimately Marxists sociologists felt that people were unable to reach their true potential due to strict uniformed rules set by a meritocracy society, however, they were not completely dismissive of the Functionalists theory and agreed that some direction was required, however, it should have been measured.

Functionalists believe that society is made up of various institutions and includes agents, such as Family, Education and the Work place and compare society to that of a biological organism, believing that each part of the body is necessary and works together allowing the whole body to function, if one component becomes dysfunctional then there could be consequences. Like the human body, the institutions depend on each other to maintain social order, however if society changes, it may be thrown into disarray.  Emile Durkheim believed that from infancy to adulthood and through the process of socialisation and education individuals develop two consciences. The core values and strong conditions instilled are filtered and become weaker the more one is socialised and the value consensus becomes more of a moral obligation. In his opinion people begin to feel that they are living a dual existence. The first being a pure existence based on the morals learned through-out infancy and the second an extension of society as the morals are challenged as one is socialised. (Elwell 2013 www.faculty.rsu.edu) This conflict between the two levels of consciences causes individuals to know no boundaries as it seeks satisfaction for all its desires at the cost of social regulation and as a result individuals may become violent, unconcerned and their core values are unconsidered, Emile Durkheim referred to this as a state of “Anomie”. (Elwell 2013 www.faculty.rsu.edu)

Marxists sociologists agree that society is made up of various agents and the comparison to the human body, however they suggested it had a detrimental effect on how people develop as it prevents them from reaching their full potential. Adhering to relentless and rigid structure impacts on quality time people have and can cause health problems, as they try to satisfy the needs of the pure self, for example seeking additional employment in order to pay financial commitments. Marxists saw this class of people as proletariats, the working class who are dependent on casual employment and must sell labour to survive. An American report published in 2010 stated that job satisfaction was at the lowest for two decades, despite the up-and downswings in the economy, these findings confused the bourgeois because in an economy like this, people “should be grateful to have a job”. (Cooper 2013 www.marxist.com) Marxists sociologists compare the way in which individuals have been conditioned to that of Plato’s story of ‘The Cave’, whereby he explores that the real world is an illusion. Plato tells a story about prisoners that have been kept in a cave since birth and are bound in such a way that they are only allowed to look straight ahead. They see shadows on the wall of animals and trees and believe this to be the real world. A prisoner escapes and looks behind him expecting to see the real world, but realises that the shadows were an illusion and they were created by objects, he now decides that the objects are the real world until he escapes the prison and sees the actual world for the first time. (2015 www.sparknotes.com) Marxists compare this analogy to Plato because it highlights how individuals were chained up by an abundance of Functionalist rules and were not able to reach their full potential. To an extent that exists today in society in different cultures.

Culture has historic perspective, however it is not static and compared to contemporary Western society other parts of the world still live by and adopt the historic moral values and boundaries more prevalently, this can reinforce and discriminate against gender and roles within society based on what is deemed to be acceptable. In Saudi Arabia, women historically have been discriminated against and are not allowed to obtain a passport, marry or access higher education without approval of a male guardian. (2015 www.mmu.ac.uk) In contrast to this, women in the United Kingdom can do all of these without approval of a male guardian, in 1928 women gained equal voting rights with men and in 1985, women were to be paid the same as men for work of equal value.   (2015 www.mmu.ac.uk) This emphasises that for generations contemporary Western society has evolved.

Role adaptation was first observed by Robert Stoller, he said that the majority of individuals can be categorised as male or female, based on one’s biological organs and because of these differences women are capable of having children, whereas men are not, this defined the role they play within society. (Haralambos & Holborn 2013) Whilst physical differences exist, it is the social role that is the underlying force and the influences during the period of Primary socialisation that defines and distinguishes gender roles. (Boundless 2015) Karl Marx believed that children are born free from attachment of any stereotype and that they are labelled with a gender, blue for a boy and pink for a girl, girl may receive the comment “you look pretty”, where as a boy would be praised for his achievements “well done for standing up on your own”.  Children place great emphasis on their peers, if a boy sees his dad being the primary carer to his new born son, then he will grow up with this influence of his definition of masculinity.

Marxists Feminists believe that society is patriarchal. Patriarchy is a social system in which power is held by men or a ruling class, this can be observed heavily within the family. The male population are seen to be the dominant force, they have a skilled occupation and support the family financially, whereas the wife’s role is generalised and limited within society, they will attend to the home and children and are often excluded from occupations which involve positions of power, which can cause women to feel oppressed. According to George Murdock and Talcott Parsons gender roles were necessary to ensure that society maintained stability and economic function, this enhanced the view that women were subordinate to men, as they believed it was required for the family to cooperate and for roles to be divided. (Haralambos & Holborn 2103) In India 80% of 1,534 men were interviewed as part of a case study into patriarchal attitudes, they said that bathing and feeding are a mothers responsibility. (Gaynair 2015 www.icrw.org) In contrast to George Murdoch’s view, Anthony Giddens said that it is misguided to look for a single, dominant family structure as family life is increasingly diverse as few families live homogenously nowadays and have the choice to live as they wish, this a process of individualisation. Furthermore, Anne Oakley explicitly rejected the views of Murdock and Parsons stating that there is no evidence of division of labour of social roles on the basis of sex, she stated that human cultures are diverse and variable. (Haralambos & Holborn 2103)

Some sociologists and anthropologist believe that women have not been ostracised in society and this has never existed, this is known as ‘male-stream sociology’. However, the approach of Feminism argues against this and feminists including Claire Wallace and Melissa Tyler have identified areas of criticism, for example, most studies of education and work studied all male samples, there were no sociological studies of house work or childbirth before 1970. (Harolanbos pg 95) Murdock sampled 224 societies in which 14 completed lumbering exclusively by women or is shared by both sexes, 36 were responsible for land clearance by women and 38 shared cooking. Oakley then examined a number of societies where biology appears to have little or no influence on women’s roles. She discovered that women form a large part of the armed forces in many countries, particularly USSR and Israel and in Australia, among the Aborigines women are responsible for seal hunting and catching mammals. (Haralambos & Holborn 2103) Feminism has had a significant impact on gender roles, family, education, mass media and crime. In 1994 the Violence Against Women Act was introduced (Maxwell 2014 http://mic.com) and according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, men now account for approximately 45%, whilst women make up 47%. (2011 www.faqs.org) However there is still evidence of gender inequality and a patriarchal society even after considerable Feminist movement. The male population receive higher salaries and achieve stratification over women, which is harmful in society because it benefits the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and sustains inequalities. In a survey completed across 500 companies it was found that only 90 had chief executives as women. (2011 www.faqs.org)

After great change due to Feminist movement, society still shows signs of living hegemonic, however the differences in gender inequalities is not as noticeable. Culture and socialisation influence and reinforce gender specific roles and Functionalism is the motivation behind this due to its strict and dictatorial views on society. It could be argued that this theory benefits the functioning of society due to the value consensus, however, Functionalism restricts individuals from reaching their full potential because of moral values that pressurise the pure self to seek satisfaction for all its desires, which could cause society to become dysfunctional. It is clear that honouring core values promotes a stable society as both perspectives acknowledge this, which supports the case that Marxism recognises the fairest approach as it also enables people to reach their full potential.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

(Mandella www.inspirational-quotes-and-quotations.com)

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