In this article we will discuss about Family:- 1. Definition of Family 2. Functions of the Family 3. Influences Affecting 4. The Future.
Definition of Family:
A human child needs care and protection for its survival for a longer period than is necessary for the survival of other animal babies. The relationship that develops around reproduction and care of off-spring between father, mother and children is thus lengthened, enlarged and refined.
The term family is used to refer to that portion of human experience which results from the behaviour of men and women in connection with reproduction and care of off-spring. Both these activities, related to reproduction and care of the offspring, have the biological purpose of the survival of the species.
This distinguishes the family from all other associations that grow out of the needs of the individual organism so as to fulfill them. The family came into being to satisfy three primary needs. There is, in the first place, the sex urge which has driven man and woman to seek an established basis for its satisfaction.
Secondly, there is the reproductive urge, particularly strong among women, which finds its fulfillment in the family. Thirdly, in its attempt to perform a biological and social function, the family is necessarily forced to assume economic responsibilities and, as a consequence, becomes an economic unit.
“The family”, according to Maclver and Page, “is a group defined by a sex relationship sufficiently precise and enduring to provide for the procreation and upbringing of children”.
Having defined family in this manner, they bring out its characteristic features as follows:
(i) It is a mating relationship which is determined and maintained by some form of marriage,
(ii) It provides a system of reckoning descent,
(iii) The family must have some economic provision to meet “the economic needs associated with child bearing and child rearing”,
(iv) The family must have a habitation, home or household which it may either enjoy exclusively or share with others.
Distinction between Domestic Group and Family:
The word ‘family’ has its origin in a Latin word which could be roughly equated with ‘domestic group’. But for sociological purposes the two must be sharply distinguished. A ‘domestic group may be defined as a group of people who habitually share a common dwelling and a common food supply.
These minimal activities of domestic groups may be greatly extended, and, as a result, domestic groups may vary in size and stability. Thus domestic groups may be made up of individuals between whom no kinship ties exist. Conversely, members of one family may be distributed over two or more domestic groups. The term ‘household’ may be used interchangeably with ‘domestic group’.
Distinction between ‘Pater’ and ‘Genitor’:
In the case of the father-child relationship the disjunction between biological and social paternity has led to a distinction between ‘pater’ and ‘genitor’. The former term is used to refer to a child’s legally recognized father and the latter to his supposed biological father. In come societies a child’s father (pater) may be a woman or a dead man.
Among the Nuer of East Africa, the kin of a man killed in war before he had married would sometimes marry a woman to “his name”. After payment of the bride price the woman cohabited with a lover, but any children born to her were the legal offspring of the dead “husband”, inheriting from him and sacrificing to him as their ancestor. Cases such as this make clear the differences between biological and social links.”
Functions of the Family:
It is evident from the definition of family, as given by Maclver and Page, that family fulfills certain functions that are vital to community life. It meets emotional and sexual needs, it ensures the reproduction of children; it acts as basic economic unit; and it provides for the care and training of children. Societies vary enormously in the importance they attach to each of these functions.
We may analyse the functions of the family in greater details, dividing for analytical purposes, the importance of these functions to the individual and to the society.
It should however, be borne in mind that the functions of the family for society are inseparable from its functions for its individual members. It serves both at one and the same time and in much the same way. The analysis of functions.
Importance to the Individual:
“The family is the only social institution charged with transforming a biological organism into a human being” What is the nature of this biological organism? Like many other animals, man is helpless at birth and would die quickly without care. Unlike most other animals, however, man cannot become self-reliant until several years have passed after birth.
There are a few other traits which are unique to man as compared to other animals. Man matures much later than any other animal. At what age man reaches enough maturity so as to be self-reliant is a matter of speculation, because maturity does not amply mean physical maturity. Even if he develops physically, he cannot protect himself or collect his food simply on the basis of physical strength.
“This-is because of the fact that, unlike lower animals, he is not endowed with instinct which may simplify his adjustment to the environment.” “No instincts impel him to build a shelter, to kill other animals, to grow plants, or to create tools”.
His reflexes are very limited in scope and do not seem sufficient to enable him to survive alone. His lack of instinct is, however, compensated by his possession of the most complex brain among all animals.
The last named trait enabled man to build several cultural aids to protect himself, to collect food, to build shelter, etc. Among many other cultural aids, the family is one which he builds in order “to be fed, protected and taught what nature has not provided”.
Family thus transforms a biological organism into a human being introducing him to several cultural aids by way of compensating, as it were, nature’s failure to teach him the instinctive art of survival.
Secondly, family enables adults of both sexes—husband and wife—to maintain a socially approved sexual relationship. Besides, the family shapes, channelizes and restricts the sex drive of man in all societies in terms of social norms.
“Some people who might be physically attractive and geographically available—for example, sisters and brothers— come to be viewed as impossible sex partners, who arouse no conscious sex desire at all”. This is because “our complex neural mechanism permits a rich conditioning to occur, by which only certain familial behavioural patterns seem right or desirable”.
Thirdly, the family helps an individual develop an integrated personality. Man is a cultural being and, as such, he has both emotional and physical needs. He needs food, protection and care for his survival. He also needs love, affection, understanding and sympathy for satisfaction of his emotional needs.
In their absence, he would fail to develop a well-rounded personality. The family creates the necessary environment in which his personality may blossom basked by the warmth of family affection. Family is, therefore, described by Talcott Parsons as a ‘factory’ which produces human personality.
Fourthly, since an individual is born in a family, he acquires a social status at birth— the son or daughter of a particular family, the membership of a particular class or caste, etc. This kind of social status which we acquire at firth through our family fulfills our sense of security. We become conscious very early age in life what we should or should not expect from others and what others may expect from us.
Importance to the Society:
The importance of family to the society may be discussed from the following points of view:
To begin with, the family provides opportunity for the sexual gratification for the spouses. At the same time, the sexual function of the family helps to stabilize society. The prescriptive and proscriptive rules which contain sexual activity between the spouses within the family prevent the probable disruptive effects on social order that would result if the sex drive were allowed ‘free play’.
A family thus provides both ‘control and expression’ of sexual drives and in doing so performs important functions for its individual members, for the family as an institution and for society as a whole.
Secondly, the reproductive functions of the family help the human species to survive. We have already noted the helpless condition of a human baby at birth and for several years thereafter. For his survival it is necessary that the family must feed and protect him and, at the same time, teach him various cultural aids.
If the family does not make adequate provision for the biological needs of man and teach him all other cultural aids that are required for his survival, he would die and obviously society also would die.
Thirdly, Talcott Parsons refers to two “basic and irreducible functions” which the family performs in all societies. These are the ‘primary socialisation of children’ and the “stabilisation of the adult personalities of the population of the society”.
By ‘primary socialisation Talcott Parsons refers to socialisation during the early years of childhood which takes place within the narrow circle of the family. This is to be distinguished from ‘secondary socialisation’ which takes place in later years when the family is less involved and the other agencies like the peer group and the school exert increasing influence.
Parsons points out that two basic processes are involved in primary socialisation: First, the internalization of society’s culture; second, the structuring of the personality in terms of society’s culture. The internalization of society’s culture is essential for the existence of society, because society cannot exist in the absence of shared norms and values.
Likewise, if the child’s personality is not moulded in terms of the central values of society’s culture he would be a misfit in society in later life.
Talcott Parsons believes that family is essential for producing ‘socialised’ personalities. Primary socialization requires a context which provides warmth, security and mutual support. He can conceive of no institution other than family which could provide this context.
Parsons argues that it is not enough to produce the personality. Once produced, the personality must be kept stable. This is the second important function of family to which Parsons refers. Family creates a situation in which the spouses provide emotional security and affectionate sympathy for each other.
This enables the couple to stand the strains and stresses of everyday life which tend to make the personality unstable. Besides, the family relationship allows the adult members to act out ‘childish’ elements of their own personalities which they “have retained from childhood but which cannot be given expression in an adult company. For example, the father plays with his son’s toy train and indulges in many other childish pranks in his child’s company. This is as necessary for father as for his son. The family, therefore, provides a situation in which ‘husband and wife can express their childish whims, give and receive emotional support, recharge their, childish whims, give and receive emotional support, recharge their, batteries and so stabilise their personalities”.
Fourthly, “the family is the fundamental instrumental foundation of the larger social structure. The role behaviour that is learned within the family becomes the model or prototype for role behaviour required in other segments of the society. The content of the socialization process is the cultural traditions of the society; by passing them to the next generation the family acts as a conduit or transmission belt by which the culture is kept alive”.
Family and the Larger Society:
While considering the functions of the family, it will be appropriate to consider also the relationship between the family on the one hand and the larger society on the other. While the family indoctrinates the child into certain values and in various other ways teaches the child to adapt to the social norms and grow up to be a ‘fit’ member of the society, the family acts merely as an agent of the larger society.
“The family transmits values which are determined elsewhere; it is an agent, not a principal”.
We have to consider, in the second place, the impact of the changes which take place in the larger society on the family. In no other social institution is it easier to detect the impact of rapid social and economic changes that are overtaking society in every country as a result of technological revolution and industrialisation.
Various kinds of household gadgets have relieved women of the drudgery involved in pursuing day-to-day domestic chores, making it possible for them to participate in activities outside the home. Similarly, industrialisation has shattered agrarian family structure and helped to usher in family patterns suited to demands of factory life and urban living which, by the way, is itself a consequence of industrialization.
In the words of Bottomore:
“Social change originates in other institutions, not in the family; the family changes in response”.
Thirdly, “the family is the keystone of the stratification system, the social mechanism by which it is maintained”. It is the family, not merely the individual, that is ranked in the class structure. Thus, one is a Brahmin or a Sudra by being born into a Brahmin or a Sudra family. An individual gets the class ranking from the position of his family in the class hierarchy. It is very interesting to consider one common experience.
An individual belonging to a class ranked high in the class hierarchy may invite a person who enjoys a comparatively lower social ranking to join him at a dinner in some hotel or restaurant. But he would hesitate to invite him to a family dinner.
This is to be found not only in Indian society in which caste and religion prevent commensally relationships from growing among individuals belonging to different castes or religions, but also in Western stratified societies. In the interaction of families one can notice both distance and equality on caste or class lines.
Moreover, “………….. homogamy bolsters the existing class structure”. There is a tendency in all stratified societies to marry into a family equal in ranking to one’s social class. It is thus evident that family not only maintains but also strengthens the existing class division.
Influences Affecting Family:
“The family has not so much changed as it has had change forced upon it. It is in transition because civilisation itself is in transition”. We may consider, in the first place, the effects of applied science. Science has brought about revolutionary economic changes in the field of industrial organisation.
“The factory, instead of the homestead, became the unit of production”, because “the steam boiler was too big for the home and the power generated required more space for the machinery”. The transference of production from the family to capitalistic organisations is of tremendous significance to the modem family.
The productive functions tended to forge links of unity in a rural agrarian family. Contrasted with this is the urban family which is confined largely, in so far as the economic activities are concerned, to the function of “justly dealing out an income earned by the members of the family who work outside”.
Among the important changes affecting family that have occurred in the wake of industrialization, the new status of women is perhaps the most important. This is true not only of Western society but also of Indian society.
Another influence of applied science upon the family has been the improvement and the dissemination of the techniques of birth control. It is true that birth control is not new in the sense that there has been in the past efforts to discover some satisfactory method of birth control.
It is, however, new from the point of view of its high degree of efficiency and its wide appeal. It is also being widely talked about, propagated and widely advertised. Small family norm is held up before the members of the public in persuasive language.
A social change of major importance in its effect on the family is the dominance of urban culture. Among various aspects of city life which influence family, we may discuss here two-important aspects of urbanisation.
On the one hand, the concentration of population gives rise to the necessity and opportunity of providing certain services on a community basis, such as common recreational facilities, health services, etc.
On the other hand, the male members of an urban family stay away from home in connection with their work for a greater part of the day. As a consequence, a father plays a comparatively negligible role in the education of his children as compared to the role of a father in an agrarian economy.
Sometimes even mothers work outside. In the circumstances, the city dwellers have developed various pre-school agencies, such as creches, nurseries, kindergartens, etc. to take care of young children.
The influence of the city is not, however, confined to those who live within its geographical limits. Its influence is more pervasive and permeates almost all strata of society. We have, finally, to take note of the fact that complexities of modem life have forced upon the state various social and economic responsibilities which were previously the exclusive concern of the family.
As illustrations, we may refer to various social security measures adopted by modem states. As a consequence of these various influences, every feature of modem family reveals the breaking down of long-established fundamental patterns of thought associated with agrarian or household family.
The Future of Family:
George Peter Murdock claimed on the basis of a sample of 250 societies ranging from hunting and gathering bands to large-scale industrial societies that some form of family existed in every society and that the family is universal. Similarly, Talcott Parsons could conceive of no institution other than the family which could produce and keep, stable human personalities.
Both Murdock and Parsons have been criticised on the ground that they have failed to explore functional alternatives to the family. Some functions are not necessarily tied to the family. It is argued that the views of sociologists, such as those of Murdock and Parsons, owe more to their beliefs about what the family ought to be.
Harrington Moore observes:
“Among social scientists today it is almost axiomatic that the family is a universally necessary social institution and will remain such through any foreseeable future… I have the uncomfortable feeling that the authors, despite all their elaborate theories and technical research devices, are doing little more than projecting certain middle- class hopes and ideals onto a refractory reality.”
In his book entitled ‘The Coming World Transformation’, Ferdinand Lundberg expressed the apprehension:
“The family is near the point of complete extinction.”
The psychologist William Wolf commented:
“The family is dead except for the first year or two of child raising. This will be its only function.”
He described a streamlined family thus :
“Industrialism demanded masses of workers ready and able to move off the land in pursuit of jobs and to move again whenever necessary. Thus the extended family gradually shed its excess weight and the so-called ‘nuclear’ family emerged – a stripped down, portable family unit consisting only of parents and-a small set of children. This new style family, far more mobile than the traditional extended family, became the standard model in all the industrial countries. Super- industrialism, however, the next stage of eco-technological development, requires even higher mobility .Thus we may expect many among the people of the future to carry the streamlining process a step further by remaining childless, cutting the family down to its most elemental components, a man and a woman.”
The noted anthropologist Margaret Mead hinted at a similar possibility when she said that “parenthood would be limited to a smaller number of families whose principal functions would be childbearing”, and that the rest of the population would be “free to function for the first time in history – as individuals”.
These possibilities are not Utopian. About a year or two ago, advertisements appeared in newspapers in England on behalf of a voluntary organisation for ‘lending a womb’. Surrogate motherhood is no longer a matter of speculation. There is already limited number of cases of surrogate motherhood. Who knows that in future such cases would not multiply?
The family in the Israeli Kibbutz presents another alternative to the present-day nuclear family. About 4 p.c. of Israel’s population live in some-240 Kibbutzim settlements. Although there are differences between one Kibbutzim and another, the general pattern of family life in a Kibbutzim may be described as follows. Marriage is monogamous. The married couple share a single bedroom cum living room.
Children live in communal dormitories where they are brought up by child caretakers or educators. They eat, live and sleep in the dormitories away from their parents. They have an opportunity of seeing their parents for an hour or two each day.
The parents do not use these visits for teaching the children. Such visits are considered as a time for ‘fun’. Thus, the parents have transferred their role obligations to the community. All children are viewed and cared for as children of the Kibbutz. Kibbutz thus represents a rejection of the family, particularly in so far as parental roles are concerned.
Kibbutz has other aspects which also represent a rejection of the traditional family pattern. There is no economic co-operation or sharing of household duties between the married couple. They work for the Kibbutz, not for the family. They get all they need from the Kibbutz.
They eat in the communal dining room. Food is cooked in common. All other necessary services, such as laundering, are provided for the entire kibbutz, the married couple having no responsibility in this regard.
Thus, family in the sense of multi-functional unit does not exist in Israeli Kibbutz. It is, however, contended by some that Kibbutz may be looked upon as a large extended family because Kibbutz is a unit of production, a unit of child rearing, a unit of socializing the child in the culture of the Kibbutz as well as a unit of consumption and recreation.
The Hungarian Marxist writers Vajda and Heller propose a commune or ‘collective family’ as an alternative to present-day nuclear family pattern. According to them, all adults in a commune are responsible for the care of children within the commune. Relationships among adults may range from monogamy to promiscuity since ‘the commune does not have value references concerning sexual relationships’.
The family commune, however, differs from Israeli Kibbutz in that the activities of the commune are confined to domestic and child care relationships only and do not embrace the field of production which involves the organization of occupational roles.
The world is changing pretty fast. It is not possible to indicate, at this stage, fairly firmly the shape of things to come. One can, however, make a safe prediction that the family will not remain the same.
Some sociologists are of the view that mankind is entering a golden age in so far as family relationships are concerned. “Entrance into marriage primarily on an affection basis, the reduction of economic pressures, and the voluntary bearing and rearing of children would appear in the long run to provide the soundest foundation for an enduring family”.