13 Theories that View Family as an Agenda


Key thinkers



1. Structural-functionalism Talcott Parsons Traditional family is the only institution that can perform two core functions in society – Primary Socialization and the Stabilization of Adult Personalities. -Being Out of Date because of the blurred gender roles

-Ignoring the exploitation of women (sexual division of labour in the family)

-Functionalism is too deterministic (ignores the fact that children actively create their own personalities)


2. Conflict Theories Marx, Engels, Weber, Habermas, Foucault Family type generally changes with society-more specifically; the nuclear family emerges not because of the needs of industralisation, but because of the needs of the Capitalist system. It socializes people to think in a way that justifies inequality in encourages people to accept that capitalist system.


– too deterministic

– ignores family diversity

– feminist argue that the Marxist focus ignores the inequalities between men and women, which is the real source of female oppression


3. Modern Conflict theory C. Wright Mills, Alan Sears Societies are defined by inequality that produces conflict. The conflict based on inequality can only be overcome through a fundamental transformation of the existing relations in the society, and is productive of new social relations.


4. Intersectionality Leslie McCall, Kimberle Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins We should think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one’s identity.  
5. Identity Politics L.A. Kauffman, Jeffrey Week, Ken Plummer, Barbara Smith Only those experiencing a particular form of oppression can either define it or fight against it. People’s politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through correlated social organization.


-groups based on shared identity , other than class, can divert energy and attention from more fundamental issues, such as class conflict in capitalist societies.

– identity politics are just other versions of bourgeois nationalism.


6. Social Exchange Theory George Homans,

Peter M. Blau, Richard M. Emerson.


Every individual tries to maximize his wins. Social exchange process brings satisfaction when people receive fair returns for their expenditures.

Formula to measure the choice making processes: rewards-costs=outcomes

Or (what I get out of it – what I lose by doing it=my decision)


7. The postmodern perspective Stacey, Nareven 2 key characteristics:

-diversity and fragmentation

-rapid social change

idea: individuals in postmodern society have much more freedom of choice in aspects of their lives.


-even though people have more freedom, there is a still a structure, which shapes people’s decisions.

-Contemporary Feminists disagree with Postmodernism, pointing out that in most cases traditional gender roles, which disadvantage women, remain the norm.


8. The New Right view Charles Murray Traditional and conventional nuclear family is the only one correct, based on fundamental biological differences between men and women.


-It Is patriarchal – the family is male dominant. Feminists argue that this is negative for women.

-Its harmful to call other family-types ‘inadequate’ – schools, advertisements and television reinforce this idea.


9. Liberal Feminism John Stuart Mill, Mary Wollstonecraft Equal opportunity via fair opportunity and equal political rights. Distinction between the public and private realms.  
10. Libertarian feminism Tonie Nathan, Wendy McElroy Individualist feminism encourages women to take full responsibility for their own lives.  
11. Anarcho-feminism Lucia Sanchez Saornil Patriarchy is a manifestation of involuntary coercive hierarchy that should be replaced by decentralized free association.  




12. Queer Theory Michel Foucault, Michael Warner


Idea: Gender is part of the essential self.

Developed out of an examination of perceived limitations in the traditional identity politics of recognition and self-identity.


-written by a narrow elite for that narrow elite. Class biased.

-doesn’t refer to any specific status or gender object choice.



13. Standpoint Theory
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


The theory strives to understand the world from the standpoint of women and other marginalized groups in society. The more authority an individual possesses, the more they have when implementing their viewpoints on the world. Key concept: women.


– Contains a problematic emphasis on the universality of this experience, at the expense of differences among women’s experiences.
– opens the possibility of an overbalance of power, in which the oppressed group intentionally or unintentionally becomes the oppressor.