Functionalism, Interactionism and Conflict Perspectives on Family

Thesis Statement

The role of the family is perceived differently by the three perspectives of the sociological theories, namely the functionalist, the conflict and the social interactionist perspectives.

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Functionalist perspective

The functionalist perspective borrows largely from the works of the Robert Merton, Talcott Parsons, Emile Durkenheim and Herbert Spencer. According to the functionalist perspective, the society is a set of interrelated parts which work together to acquire a social equilibrium and harmony for the whole society (Shepard, 2010). The functionalist perspective further shows how each of the parts of the society influences or is influenced by other parts of the society.

The family

In the case of the family, the functionalist perspective argues that the family offers four important roles to its members and the society at large.

The sexual function

First, the family offers a sexual function to regulate sexual activity in the society. In every society, married partners have sexual access to each other but are regulated by social norms against extra-marital sex. This argument implies that the family provides sexual satisfaction to its members and also limits sexual access to other members of the society to maintain stability.

Reproductive function

The family also provides a reproductive role to the society. Through this role, the family bears children and raises them. Doing so provides the society with new responsible members.

The economic function

The family is viewed as an economic unit (Shepard, 2010). Through division of labor along gender lines, the society has created a method that sees to each spouse attending to distinct roles which are complementary to each other.

Education function

Finally, the family offers an education function to children. A family is responsible for impacting the society’s way of life along with norms and values to its children. This is an important function as it prevents members from deviating too much from the norms of the society hence creating stability.

The conflict perspective

The conflict perspective sees the society as majorly patriarchal. According to the conflict perspective people should learn their roles and accept the status quo to maintain stability. The conflict perspective does not see the society as a set of groups that working to the same end (Shepard, 2010). On the contrary, it views the society as a set of groups working to conflicting interests. The organization is majorly led by men while women lead a follower or slave role in the society.

The family

According to the conflict perspective, even religion serves to sooth women in the family and diverts their attention from the exploitation they suffer from men and instead concentrate on spirituality and a reward in heaven or in the afterlife. In the family, while women may want to control the family, matters such as economics and politics are further away from them. The family further serves to enable the male members of the family to put their efforts on developmental ventures while diverting the attention of women from such matters. This platform enables women to increase their capabilities while limiting the female members of the society.

The interactionist Perspective

The symbolic interactionist perspective is based on microsociology. It mainly analyzes the psychological aspects of individuals within small groups in the society. The interactionist perspective is mainly based on the works of Adama Smith, Ervin Goffman, George Herbert Mead, Charles Cooley and George Simmel. The perspective holds that people’s behaviors are based on the meanings and definitions that people acquire through interaction by interacting with other people (Shepard, 2010). It argues that people respond to the definition or meaning they place on a situation rather than on the situation itself. Situations that are defined as real develop to be real in their significances. It further argues that the sense of self is obtained from interaction. A self-concept is acquired from the way people interact with others and acquire labels. People view themselves mainly according to the way they are viewed by the society. People choose to view themselves in the eyes of the society.

The family

According to the social interactionist theory, people within a family interact and instill an understanding between them. According to the social interactionist perspective, disagreement in the family originates from the inability of the individual members translating similar situations differently. When people view a situation differently, there is a possibility that these people will disagree and even divorce if an agreement is not reached at.

In conclusion, the three theories show a lot of difference in the way the family is defined. In the functionalist perspective, the family serves to resolve certain situations in the society hence promoting stability. The conflict perspective on the other hand sees the family as a group of people with selfish intentions. The status quo exists because most of the resources are in favor of the male members of the society. Finally, the interactionist perspective argues that people disagree when they interpret similar situations differently. On the contrary, when interpretation is done similarly, the family is stabilized.


Shepard, J. (2010). Sociology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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