A reasoned evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses in Marxism, Functionalism and Feminism
A sociological theory is a set of ideas that provide an explanation for human society.
In undertaking an accurate interpretation of three sociological perspectives, I will make a reasoned evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses in Marxism, Functionalism and Feminism. From the three chosen sociological perspectives I will also look at their individual views on religion and the family.
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Marxism named after its founder Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) is very famous and influential. Marx regarded people as both producers and the products of society, he believed since people made society, only they can change it. He argued that ‘man makes his own history’. Marx believed that the rich would get richer (bourgeois – ruling class) and that the poor would get poorer (proletariat – subordinate /working class). He proposed that the proletariat would revolt in anger, leading to a revolution, resulting in the disappearance of the social class system and that people would live in a more equal society. Max Weber (1864 – 1920) agreed with Marx, however he also stressed the importance of status and power (i.e. an individual may be poor but have high status, such as a teacher). His views on religion differed to that of Marx too, arguing that it could be a source of conflict and change rather than a source of stability or social control. Key Names: Mark, Engels, Young and Taylor.
Society is viewed as a system, that is, as a set of interconnected parts that together form a whole. Functionalists believe that society has basic needs, which must be met if it is to continue to exist. It believes the concept of function i.e. the function of the family is to ensure the continuity of society by reproducing and socializing new members and the function of religion is to integrate the social system by reinforcing common values. Key Names: Durkheim, Merton, Murdock, Malinowski and Parsons.
The basic assumption shared by all feminists is that women suffer certain injustices on account of their sex. Feminist sociology, stresses the importance of gender divisions in society and it portrays these divisions as working to the overall advantage to men. Although feminists are united by their common desire for sexual justice and their concern for women’s welfare, there is actually a wide spectrum of ‘feminisms’ (Mitchell and Oakley, 1986). These can be divided into four broad ‘tendencies’: liberal, radical, Marxist/socialist and Black.
Critical of Capitalism. In favour of the average person in society. Economic base or infrastructure and Political/Ideological superstructure. Social Structure (Macro Approach).
Functional Imperatives: Goal Attainment, Adaptation, Integration and Latency. Functional sub-systems: Economic, Political, Family and Religion.
Has done a lot to improve things for women over the years. Focuses on male/female relationships. Looks at laws needed/ used to ‘redress’ male/female power balance (equal legal protection and social rights).
Too many inconsistencies and interpretations of Marx’s work. Unscientific (the ‘Faith of Marxism’ – Popper). Conspiracy theory (especially aimed at instrumental Marxists). Communism does not appear about to happen. Forms of (non-economic) conflict (gender, ethnic group) ignored in favour of economic conflicts. Left Functionalism (‘Marxism is little more than a form of Functionalism that replaces the interest of ‘society’ with ‘ruling class’ – Jock Young). Modern society is more complex than Marx predicted. Comparatively dated theories.
Critics: Popper, Weber, Young (‘Left Idealism’), any New Right Theorist, Social biologists and Radical Feminists.
Functionalists find it hard to explain rapid social change. They believe that ‘if something exists it has a function. It has a function because it exists’. The belief that non-human things like ‘society’ can have human qualities such as ‘needs and purposes’. Over-emphasis upon the ‘beneficial’ aspects of institutions and structures. Believing that society revolves around family unit – but not willing to recognise that not all people worldwide – belong to a family unit – yet function well. Critics: Marxist Sociologists, Radical and Marxist Feminists.
Women – like working class men – are at a fundamental economic disadvantage; although Feminists refuse to see that. Legal changes mainly benefited middle class women. Legal equality not the same as status equality. Ignores study of social structural factors (e.g. class). Feminism geared towards middle class feminists (Bourgeois). Men are seen as the ‘enemy’ (Marxist Feminism). Critics: Radical Feminists and New Right of Liberal Feminists and New Right, Marxist/Socialist Feminists of Radical Feminists.
STRUCTURAL VIEWS ON RELIGION AND THE FAMILY
Religions, families and societies have been around for a very long time. Unsurprisingly, we find family units and religions present in all known societies, and consequently, families and religion have a social impact. Everyone has their own view of what religion and the family consists of. These pre conceived ides are mostly to do with our own backgrounds, culture and life experiences. There is a lot of disagreement among sociologists about the roles of religion and the family within society; we will look at three sociological perspectives:
In Marx’s view, ‘Man makes religion, religion does not make man’. In other words, religion is the self-conscious and the self-feeling of man who has either not found himself or has already lost himself again. ‘Truly liberated individuals have no need of religion’. Thus, if the alienation and exploitation associated with the classes are eradicated, and people are freed to develop their human potential and find themselves, as in a truly socialist society, religion will no longer be needed and will cease to exist.
Marx and Engels believed that religion represented a protest against a dehumanising social world and human alienation, it also leads people into false hopes and direction, along with the ‘solutions’ it promises that are illusory. It obscures and distorts the true nature of reality in ways that benefit the ruling class. Marx anticipated that when a classless society was established, religion would disappear.
Whereas Durkheim sees religion as an expression and celebration of people’s sociality. Religion creates order and stability in society; it can be an agent of socialization and create a sense of social solidarity. Malinowski accepted like Durkheim that religion creates social solidarity but he believed that religion is a response to peoples needs during stress (e.g. birth and death). Parsons believed the role of religion served two functions, one to provide guidelines (behaviour in society) and the other is to answer ultimate questions.
Religion is seen as an instrument of oppression, as a product of patriarchy rather than a product of capitalism. Religion is used by oppressors (men) to control the oppressed group (women), and it also serves as a way of compensating women for their second-class status. In most typical religions of the last millennium women are subservient and secondary to men (i.e. Catholic church and Muslims).
The Marxists position asserts that the nuclear family is not universal but a product of capitalism and that the family is an exploitative institution. Murdock’s theory is critised because he didn’t consider that other social institutions could have performed the functions and he does not examine other alternatives to the family. In Engels theory he suggested that the main reason that the family developed was to solve the problem of inheritance, also that the family was the most efficient device for insuring legitimacy of the proposed heirs. Engels theory was largely based on a flawed interpretation of the family by Anthropologist, Lewis Morgan (1900).
A strong supporter of the family is the Functionalist. Their belief is that the family is the ‘cornerstone of society’. A study was conducted on the family, studying 250 societies by George Murdock (Social Structure 1949). In his study, he concluded that the ‘nuclear family is a universal human social grouping …. It exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every known society’. Murdock identifies four basic functions that the family performs: sexual, reproductive, economic and educational. Fellow functionalist Talcott Parsons would largely agree with Murdock’s theories of the family.
Feminists’ criticise the family as the focus on the exploitation of women by men, they argue that men dominate family relationships. Radical feminists argue that in it’s most extreme form this means oppression and violence (Russell Dobash, 1980). Evidence to suggest that women are dissatisfied in their family life is portrayed in the rise of divorces filed by women. Parson’s theory of the family being a safe haven is more myth than reality for families today. Feminist Margaret Benson focuses mainly only the point that women are a source of cheap labour, as the housewife is unpaid for her work. In the family women are primarily seen as a housewife and mother, and in this environment men are given the control over women’s sexuality and fertility.
The different aspects of religion have a social impact and must be measured. Through out history there is considerable evidence to support Marx’s ideology, that religion maintains the existing system of exploitation and reinforces class relationship, thereby keeping people in their place (consider the Islamic world). However, conflicting evidence suggests that religion does not always legitimate power (Catholicism – Pope – Rome).
Whilst Feminism implies that religion and belief systems are an instrument of manipulation for men to use on women; although I believe this theory to be the case for some religions but not all. It can vary from religion to religion, for example women cannot become priests in the Roman Catholic or Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, but in the Jewish faith women can become rabbis and do not sit apart from men. Contrary to Marxist views that religion suppresses people’ attempts to change their situation, religion can sometimes provide an impetus for change (Queen Mary – Catholicism and Queen Elizabeth I – Protestant). The Functionalist perspective of belief systems and religion does not vindicate for the dysfunctional aspects that the unruly force of religion can manifest (i.e. war in the name of ‘Religion’).
The subject of the family and how it is defined is extremely difficult to determine. Marxists position asserts that the nuclear family is not universal but a product of capitalism and that the family is an exploitive institution, and that it was the simplest solution for insuring legitimacy of proposed heirs. Whereby Functionalism is a strong supporter of the family, believing it to be the ‘cornerstone’ of society. Feminists’ criticise the family as the focus on the exploitation of women by men, they argue that men dominate family relationships.
Everyone has their own view of what religion and the family consists of. These pre conceived ideas are mostly to do with our own backgrounds, culture and life experiences.
I find it difficult to subscribe to one theory over another as Functionalist, Marxist and Feminist theories can be interpreted in many different ways. Consequently each theory’s perspective will work for their interpretation of religion, the family and society. The three theories are not too dissimilar to the three main Political Parties (Labour, Conservative and Liberal) in Britain; each has it’s own agenda, but are all are equally as devious! I am more inclined to opt for the Feminist and Marxist theories as they seem more plausible and are more comparative to past history and present day findings. I also believe that as societies cultures change through time, so will our definition of family, religion and society.