Family Crisis - Five Major Theories
Structural Functional Theory
The first of the Big Five is Structural Functional theory, which explains society's expectations of us as members, and our inability to stray too far from those expectations. Conflict theories explain the nature of self-interest in an otherwise tolerant society. Symbolic Interaction theory will explain socialization and acculturation, and Social Exchange theory does a good job of explaining our motivation to action. Finally, Developmental theories, as a group, will characterize a wide array of human phenomena, including our increasing ability to conceive of our culture.
SFT is Deterministic (mechanistic). While the individual has the opportunity to deviate from social normality, socialization prohibits, and thus determines, all but a narrow latitude of behavior.
SFT is Abstract and Objective. Social structure is observable only by viewing its outcomes - the effects it has on the group. However, the group is easily observed and its behavior can be recorded and generalized to the society as a whole.
SFT is Nomothetic. It provides general laws or rules by which society and individuals are governed. SF is EXTRASPECTIVE. Trained theoreticians understand the model.
SFT is Formally stated. The theory has been written in forms that allow hypotheses to be derived and tested.
A little background and history - The early functionalists were anthropologists (i.e., Levi-Strauss, Radcliff-Brown, Malinowski, and others). These were seminal thinkers of the middle 1800s who made direct observations of primitive cultures, theorizing about the organization of these folk in relation to Western society. While these early academicians were sometimes quite biased in their perceptions of the peoples who fell under their gaze, their theories were often quite simple and required only a few assumptions. The point they were making was this: Individual and group behavior, more often than not, serves a FUNCTION for the larger society.
For sociology, many of these functional anthropological notions were drawn together by Talcott Parsons, a young professor at Harvard University around 1950, with considerable input from early social philosophers Max Weber, Herbert Spencer, and Emile Durkheim. Parsons' work was further extended by subsequent sociologists of the time and after. Structural-functional theory became the paradigm theory in sociology for about twenty years or so, because it saliently defined society as a system with checks and balances. It was flexible enough to explain the existence of virtually any social phenomenon that might crop up, from crime in the streets to the existence of social norms regarding grace and politeness. This organizational phenomenon is based on the Unit Act:
The concept of Social Integration means that there are no elements of society that are in actual conflict with each other. If socialization works, each of us values similar ideals, each holds similar goals, each understands the importance of cooperatively working toward the same ends. The culture provides the basis for meeting social and personal goals. Culture provides an environment that allows specific socialization patterns to emerge, molding each personality to relative conformity, allowing specific role performances to occur. Every aspect of society is consistent with all other parts. On a global level, Structural-Functional theory explains how and why all of the elements in a society might cooperate with each other to form social progress.
Now an institution is a social invention that meets certain requirements of a society. Institutions are sets of rules, regulations, norms, and expectations regarding the behaviors of people along cultural guidelines. Every society needs a way of processing young citizens through childhood and on into adulthood, marriage, child-rearing, and so on.
The Institution of the Nuclear Family in our own society provides individuals with a set of tried and true behavioral codes. Follow these rules and you will grow up wanting to marry one day, raise a passel of kids, and eventually bounce grandchildren on your knee. Each institution partially meets the needs of each of the others. In exchange for the loyalty and allegiance of family members, the political institution protects us and leads us. In exchange for our labor, the economy provides us with money and goods. The Political Institution provides law and order, protection from harm, standards of health & welfare. In return, it asks for loyalty and compliance. The Economic Institution provides wages in exchange for labor, goods and services in exchange for currency, and provides a higher standard of living through cooperative competition. The Religious Institution provides moral standards for behavior, approval as a worthy person, compassion when we are troubled, allows the group to enjoy our triumphs. It asks for our acceptance of its "truths", conformity to its standards, and a little currency to keep it running. The Community Institution provides, through education, the knowledge necessary to perform in the economic arena, converts little humans into citizens in exchange for tax monies, and support. The Family Institution, of which ours is the Nuclear Family, provides an orderly process of mating and procreation, regulates sexuality, offers methods for protection of individuals during maturation, suggests strongly that mates be confidants and share each others troubles & successes. Each institution works to benefit itself and the other four.
Functional Requirements of Society
Structural-functional theory begins to answer the question of order in society. The Hobbesian Question is "in a society where competition between individuals is paramount, how is order possible?" The answer is that human beings are social animals that create social forms (i.e., social structure), in order to organize the elements of society. Let's take an example from real life.
On October 28th, 1929, life in American society was a hectic and busy model of functionalism. Bakers were buying sacks of flour and other materials to make the bread that would be bought by families to be eaten that evening. Clothing manufacturers in the industrial northeast were creating new styles for the coming fashion season from cloth woven in mills in the southeast. The virgin wools and cottons from which cloth was woven was purchased from farmers in the south and west. School children were thinking about having fun at recess, or the hot meal their mothers would provide after their chores after school. Everybody's busy - everybody has a place in the social order. With few exceptions, even the poor were included in the social order. In fact, about 80% of the population was poor.
The next day, October 29th, 1929, the stock market crashed in New York City. This is the first day of the Great Depression. Massive, world-wide economic failure has left whole societies in poverty around the globe, with the exceptions of societies too primitive to have constructed currency based economies. They were left untouched. The Hobbesian question simply asks, Why didn't we beat each other to death for the few scraps of food still in existence? Why didn't schools shut down? Why didn't millions starve to death? Weren't we in competition for each others goods? The answer is that we weren't entirely in competition with each other.
Think of the many ways in which the five social institutions integrated and adapted to the times. The government introduced large-scale social programs designed to aid families while simultaneously providing work and stimulating the economy. Religion consoled and comforted us, giving us faith that we could overcome current troubles. Educational facilities were turned into meeting houses and central locations for the disbursement of emergency goods. Our Polity also later declared war on Germany and Japan, which instantly provided work for thousands. Of course, these remedies didn't begin to happen by October 30th. Social responses to crisis take time. The crisis has to soak in.
Representing the Economy, Henry Ford responded to the depression by recommending that workers plant vegetable gardens to supplement their paychecks. Mr. Ford also allowed his workers to float short term loans to get them through the temporary difficulties. The Depression would last until 1941. The general response by Government and the Economy's spokesmen was to work harder, because hard work was what made America great. These people didn't understand the economy at its most fundamental level, even though they were the ones who constructed it. There was plenty of "stuff" (i.e., products, goods, things), in fact, there was too much stuff, and that WAS the problem - we had overproduced and it was a buyer's market in the extreme. After the "work harder" strategy failed, a new set of leaders were elected to think the problem through again.
This is Parsons' Theory of Social Action in action:
Now think about the nuclear family of the 1930s. If social theory is the study of social forms, and the family is a social form, then family studies should look at the functions of various forms of the family as they relate to the rest of society. Read that again, this time think about the dominant family form today, the Dual Earner Family, compared to the dominant family form in 1930.
In 1930, the average family was rural, lived on a farm or in a small city. Children lived under the guidance of both parents and attended school when it was convenient for the operation of the family farm. Parents' (society's) expectations of young men were that they would acquire skills necessary to make a living and go to work. They would marry sometime after proving their hand at their livelihood. For young women, the expectation was to prepare themselves to be good mothers and wives - marry by 21, have children to raise, and make a home for their family. Introductions to potential marriage partners were made through relatives or friends, and through semi-official channels such as church. Courtship was managed rigidly with young men seeking permission to "see a father's daughter socially".
In the decades to follow, the gender role divisions that worked so well for pre-depression society no longer made functional sense. As society needed more workers in factories, first in the northeast, later throughout the country, women were partially redefined from wives, mothers and homemakers to workers, wives, mothers and homemakers. The war years from 1941 to 1945 are interesting in that while we were not willing as a society to commit our daughters to combat, a distinction not extended to our sons, we were quite willing to view young women as riveters in defense factories. Of course, women were once again redefined as primarily mothers and housewives after the concerted efforts of men and women succeeded in ending the war. All of this flexibility was possible, according to the SF approach, because of social structure.
The Building Blocks of Social Structure
Virtually every relationship an individual may enter into is covered by social structural elements. What do you call the Ph.D. who teaches your Theory Class (to his face, that is)? You use whatever name he or she demands that you use, such as Professor, Doctor, Teacher, or Mr./Ms.! What do you call your beloved sweetie pie? How about, darling, sugar, honeybunch, baby, sweetheart, lover, snuggums, pet, dearest? Each name connotes a part of your relationship with this other person. In SF terms, suppose the person occupying Status A is the eligible bachelor, college graduate with gobs of earning potential. Occupying Status B is the lovely and talented unattached, nearly graduated coed, with desires for home and family life. Both A & B are mammals with biological drives for safety, comfort and sexual outlet. Status A has been socialized to desire "love" from one such as Status B (i.e, those lips, those eyes, that curvaceous nature!). Status B has been socialized to desire "love" from one such as Status A (i.e, that professional appearance, that strong back, that studly persona).
Society actively constructs those desires in A & B, then provides critical means to allow A & B to find each other, through school, friends, church, and as a last resort, bars.
Take a look at the figure below.
Any two healthy specimens, given the appropriate attributes, can view each other in terms of the functional aspects of love. Once they find each other, they will enter into quite standardized, albeit exotic to them, coupling rituals designed to cement reciprocal commitment, extended family loyalty, and long term association.
If structure is adaptive and integrative to the social system, it is functional and is continued. At the individual level of observation, if we observe two people interacting with each other, how might we organize our thoughts about their relationship? Person A is dressed in work clothing and is busy writing down instructions on a clipboard as they are given by Person B. Person B is dressed in a business suit. Occasionally Person B alters his instructional voice to ask a question of Person A, who stops writing and thinks for a minute before uttering two or three options for Person B to consider. Person B chooses one option or another and continues to instruct, occasionally pointing to various aspects of the room the two are standing in. What can we assume from this brief description, given our previous discussion of social institutions?
The Institution of the Family
Once they find each other (they go to the same church, the same school, live in the same or similar neighborhoods, shop at the same stores, share the same goals), they will enter into quite standardized, albeit exotic to them, "coupling rituals" (dates) all designed to result in the binding of two extended families into one, to produce children, and to entrench the interminglers in the routine business of everyday family life.
Suppose A and B are not suited for "love" (they are the same sex, married to others already, have a large age difference, come from divergence social classes or have conflicting religious training, or wildly different ethnicity). Then, love will not develop between them because it is not functional to either society or to the individuals concerned. In other words, there has to exist a preponderance of similarity (homogamy) of social characteristics before love can even be considered.
In many ways, social structure is oppressive. We marry each other for love, but what has really occurred is that society has once again forced us to make the only decision that we are allowed to make. Ninety-four percent of all Americans marry at least once. Almost all who do marry cite love as the reason for their decision. Thus, love is INTEGRATIVE to individuals in that it helps individuals to solve personal dilemmas. Love is also ADAPTIVE to the social system in that it allows the system to procure behaviors from its members that are functional
Functional Prerequisites for Institutions and
Subsystems such as
The whole social system consists of as many institutions as are necessary for the social system to continue in existence. Each institutional boundary is permeable, so that it can receive information from other institutions in a cooperative manner. Thus, the family interacts with the economy to the mutual satisfaction of both. The political system interacts with education, education with the economy, and religion with the family, political system and economy.
Every possible dilemma that might erupt in social life is considered in SF theory in the form of the A.G.I.L. model and the Patterned Variables of Social Interaction. This is difficult, so read carefully.
Patterned Variables - SF divides all social interaction into two groups. Primary relationships (e.g., the warm, thoughtful, caring, intimate treatment that lovers might employ) and Secondary relationships (e.g., the businesslike, courteous, rule oriented, colder approach that one might encounter at the post office or in registering for classes at the university). There are only five potential dilemmas that exist in all social situations. These are the Patterned Variables. Through these, we determine whether others are to be treated as part of the larger society (secondary relationships), or in terms of more intimate groups (primary relationships). You will also remember that Theory is a statement of relationships between concepts (variables), that is either descriptive, explanatory, or predictive. Every scientific theory is not testable until hypotheses are derived and operationalized. Parsons would tell us that every single social interaction is guided by one side (primary or secondary) of one set of the patterned variables. The decision to treat an individual as primary or secondary depends on the role relationship that one has with the person in question. The patterned variables stem from Tonnies' notion of:
For example, using the businessman/workman relationship we described above, how would the businessman react if the workmanship of the finished job was unsatisfactory? Using patterned variable four (Qualities vs. Performances), he expects a good job and will demand it, based on Performance norms set out by our society.
What if the workman was also the businessman's baby brother? Then the businessman would have to decide where he stands. Usually, family ties are tighter than those entered into in a business environment, so he would forgive his brother, and hire a non-relative to complete the work. He would know that by crossing rigid Patterned Variable lines, he himself has violated a social rule (e.g., don't hire relatives - ever!).
The "love" example also holds true to the patterned variables. Our society wants us to know that affection and business don't mix, so we unconditionally provide for those we love, and are much tougher on the rest of the population. Usually, whenever patterned variables define a dilemma (for example, the arresting officer is the perpetrator's wife), strong social norms are always upheld while still allowing affections to remain intact if at all possible (e.g., ask another officer to do the dirty work).
To put the patterned variables into perspective regarding their social implementation, Parsons gives us the A.G.I.L. model of social organization (Adaptation, Goal Attainment, Integration, and Latency - A.G.I.L.). He divides society up conceptually into matters of: 1) Problem Solving and 2) System Maintenance. Take a look at Figure 7 below.
Adaptation and Goal Attainment are part of Problem Solving, while Integration and Latency are part of System Maintenance. Each of the pairs of patterned variables are assigned to one of the squares in the figure. In any social situation, there are always problems to be solved (needs to be met, uncertain conditions to be waded through, troubles, strife, accidents, and so on), while simultaneously the social system has to be maintained. Patterned variables are particular to problem solving and system maintenance. This little model provides us with a description of how the social system regulates itself and allows for growth and change.
Two primary goals of any system are to solve problems and maintain itself.
Goal attainment is achieved simultaneously on a daily basis. There is routine maintenance of gear, food preparation, hourly plotting of the ship's course. Goals change as situations change. When environmental situations warrant - all hands are required to bend to single-minded tasks, such as replenishment, taking on fuel, moving into battle positions, and encountering emergencies. The ship is organized so that every task is choreographed to cooperate with the performance of every other task. Perfect Integration. In cases where some inefficiencies in integration occur, the ship provides for tension management - movies on the fan tail, free time in the form of liberty, delivery of propaganda and rituals for reinforcing the goals and maintaining behavior patterns.
The model works well in describing social interaction on any level of observation, from routine family functioning to large scale societal management of crisis. See if you can make sense out of the model given the following family conditions: 1) we want a new house, 2) somebody stole my socks, 3) we can't pay the rent , and 4) we buy a new computer . I'll do one for you.
We want a new house!
Finally, there is the larger, sweeping model of social integration that ties together the individual personality and motivation to action, social structure and role performance, with the entire cultural system. It works like this: The culture provides the basis for all meaning for events and objects in our lives. Culture is the reasoning behind every behavior we perceive, and it even guides our very perception. To understand our culture is to become enabled to operate and interact within it - to become socialized (definition:: personality development and the motivational system that causes in us desires, wants and needs). The sets of behavior codes (role performances) that a person accepts as appropriate behavior are at once avenues for us to have our needs met (goals attained), and ways for society to have its needs met (social structure). That we would even know that we have space problems in the house in which we are now living is possible only because we live in a culture that defines our living arrangements for us. Culture tells us that we are cramping up. The next model explains how we come to define problems to be solved and how we are able to see the system that we are attempting to maintain.
Culture provides an umbrella of meaning over both Personality system, and Social Structure:
The Concept of Social Structure
Beginning with the Cultural System, which provides for us three basic necessities for social living: beliefs, expressions of those beliefs, and norms to help us realize our beliefs. Using the "love" example one more time, love is part of our overall belief system. We believe, we have faith, it is a social value we hold that love is a good thing and we all should have some of it in our lives. Otherwise, why would so many of us want love above anything else we could have in life? The culture provides us with countless Expressive Symbols to use in consuming and delivering love to ourselves and others.
For example, what would you think of someone who wrote a love letter everyday to his sweetie, and filled each one with rich language such as, until I met you, I was merely trudging through life without direction. But you came into my life and suddenly my purpose is so very clear. Honey, I want to make you happy, and care for you, and have you love me just as much. You are so right for what's wrong in my life. I will love you forever. I promise. Culture also provides us with normative structure which defines and limits acceptable behavior surrounding our employ of our belief in love. People who are in love should marry each other as soon as they can. And marriage should last for as long as possible.
Society wants every single person born into it to have the same belief system, the same expressions of affection, and to abide by the same norms, rules, and avenues for its expression. To accomplish this, the culture provides for a socialization process through which Personality is developed, and Motivation for Action is felt. Society is so good at infusing the same belief system in us all that we sometimes feel as though our emotions are not socially mandated at all - they come from deep within us. Thus, we can fall in love, be swept off our feet, and succumb to the conclusion that our love is destiny. The transmission of cultural values to individuals begins with well meaning folk - our parents and attendant others (socialization agents) - who will guide us through the first few years of life, all the time throwing concepts in our path to cognate about.
True personality development begins with Cognition. Concepts are learned one at a time, in repetitions, until we come to fully understand what they mean. We form the concept of love first by associating the feelings we have at the time the concept is pointed out. Hugs and kisses are followed by "I love you"s", presents for birthdays have a card signed "I love you, honey", a new litter of puppies is experienced with a parent who says "She cares so much for her babies. That's love!".
True cognition can only occur with the introduction of language on which to base the concept. Cathexis is the process by which we receive and give elements of the culture. In the case of love, we attempt to employ the concept by getting a handle on it's use and trying it out (expressive system here, too). We ourselves must give it a try and see if we are gratified by the results. Here, the Evaluation part of Personality begins. If we give a kiss to our first love, and he or she responds in a way we desire, then love seems to work. If the response is not what we wanted, we will alter our approach, modify our actions, until it does work. We learn to love because we believe we'll like what it gets for us. This evaluation process is connected to Role Performance. What we are doing when we initiate social action (such as stealing a kiss from a potential sweetie), is attempting to behave in socially appropriate ways and still achieve gratification of our needs. Role performance and social structure are the rules by which we are gratified, and we have to learn them well.
The first rule, for love, is to define exactly who in the population is lovable (Cognitive Style). When we say that we don't find short persons attractive, this is individual variation and not social. When we say we don't find persons attractive who have no job, or are morally deficient, or have less education than us, or even are the same gender as us, we are expressing appropriate cognitive style for our culture. Once we isolate our personal pool of eligibles, we may employ expressions in the Appreciative Style by digging up our learned principles of romance and going to it. Only one more thing has to be kept in mind - the Moral Style. While society is all for love, it wants us to love only one person at a time. It has rules about this sort of thing. And if one is unlucky enough to love more than one and is found out, punishment is imminent.
Criticisms of Structural-Functionalism
As we approached the mid-1960s, our society had already seen the beginnings of the civil rights movement and was about to enter yet another age of dissent. This would entail anti-war sentiments which would grow to a fever pitch, and the resurgence of the feminist movement that would come in the early 1970s.
On strictly theoretical grounds, however, functionalism offered an imprecise set of propositions, too broad for empirical testing. Its assumptions were considered dangerously close to ideology and dogma. Critics felt the theory too tightly built to allow an explanation of desperately needed social change to remedy a pathological society. However, social science's reaction was not to jettison the entire paradigm of functionalism, only the name Functionalism.
For example, that little story about the businessman and the workman is really an explanation of role interaction which includes a description of the fundamental structural item for a social system - rights & obligations. This point has become the basis for role theory in psychology, and symbolic-interaction theory in social psychology. The norm of reciprocity, a key concept to both exchange theory and symbolic-interaction, can be seen early on in the work of functionalists in their discussion of the interrelatedness of institutions, as well as individuals. Albeit on a macro-scale,, the reciprocity between institutions such as the family and the economy cannot be denied. Combinations of the status/role idea and G.H. Mead's generalized other (S-I theory) is extensively used.
Taken in historical perspective, and placed in the larger picture of events occurring during the twentieth century, functionalism's statistical explanatory power was minimal. While professors in classrooms throughout America were expounding the functional nature of society, rocks and bottles were zipping through the air as angry students protested the injustices they perceived. Campus authority was overridden in favor of some other, more important morality. The status quo, which was the standard of measurement of the 1940s and 1950s, became a symbol of all that was wrong with our society.
To see the poor fit between functionalism and reality, one only needs to gaze out the window. However, as we will see, structural-functionalism has returned to social science under a new name - General Systems Theory - which is discussed in a later chapter.