Summarize understandings of the family as presented by functional, conflict, and social interactionist theories.

Structural functionalism would present the family as a unit that is necessary to create social stability. Conflict theory would present the family as a unit that can perpetuate inequality through the enforcement of negative social norms like gender expectations. Social interactionist theories would explain that factors like gender and class impact how families communicate and function.

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Structural functionalism is the theoretical framework that examines social structures in terms of their function, their intended consequences, and their unintended consequences. As a result, structural functionalists understand the family unit as an important structure to maintain the stability of social processes. For example, the family is critical for raising children. Other social institutions are necessary for child rearing too of course (such as schools), but the family unit is the place where children are first socialized and first exposed to social norms and expectations.

Structural functionalism also views problems and tensions in families as situations that result from changes in family structure. The viewpoint also suggests that weakening family structures are a threat to the smooth functioning of the rest of society.

Conflict theory is the theoretical framework that examines how oppression is a result of social order. This framework thus examines the family in terms of how it relates to social oppression and inequality. For example, consider how the family structure that has been considered “normal” for generations perpetuates heteronormative and misogynistic expectations. Conflict theorists would also present the ways in which a family can be a source of oppression and inequality, such as through the normalization of domestic violence.

Social interactionist theories present the family differently because they are frameworks that examine micro-level symbolic forms of communication. For example, a symbolic interactionist would likely present the family by examining how different families interact in different ways based on their race, class, culture, and other social factors.

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