Family Institution and Sociological Theories


The branch of science that studies the behavior of human beings as a team is known as sociology, which is the holistic study of the society. It involves the study and analysis of human activities in societies using empirical investigation methods. Sociology aims at explaining societal effects of social structures and institutions. Sociological theories and perspectives are frameworks that provide explanations and analysis of objects in the society to enhance understanding of the organization of the society. Sociological theories are never complete because they keep on changing from time to time. Sociological theories include macro and micro-level analysis. Macro-level analysis deals with the study of structures that characterize the society. Micro-level analysis deals with the study of interactions in different circumstances in the society. It is important to understand that proven and tested ideas and concepts by scientists are referred to as a theory by the same people who prove them, scientists. Theories are developed to widen, clarify, and magnify understanding of the behaviors of individual people and societies. Science would not be successful without theories to support explanations. Examples of sociological theories include functionalism, conflict, and interactionism. This paper will address the impacts sociological theories on the family (Kishwar, 2010).

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Functionalism is an anthropological school of thought that began at the beginning of the 19th century. Bronislaw Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown were the founders of the functionalist school of thought. Functionalism was mainly developed as a reaction against the 19th century historicism, diffussionism, and evolutionary theories. Malinowski outlined shelter, food, and reproduction as physiological needs of human beings, which social institutions must fulfill. Each institution comprises technology, norms, charter, personnel, and function. Malinowski stressed that fulfillment of psychological needs is important for the success of the society (Sever, 2012).

The structure of the society has always been emphasized by Radcliff-Brown among other social scientists as compared to the biological structure. Structural functionalists view society as a complex system comprising various parts, which cooperate to maintain and enhance stability and unity in the society. As postulated by the theory, the society is a collection of various components some of which include the customs of the people, their institutions and norms. The success of the society is accomplished only with full functioning of the constituent elements. Functionalists use organic analogy to explain the role different parts of the society play. As indicated by the organic analogy, each body organ plays a major role, which enables the organism to function, reproduce, and live in an organized way. Just like the functioning of a biological living thing where the survival of the organism depends on the interaction of its parts, so does the society operate and function. Examples of components of the society include the economy, kinship ties, religion, culture, and government. The approach examines functions and structures that make the society. Functionalists examine the role played by each component in the maintenance of the society (Sever, 2012).

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory was founded by the 1800 political activist and theorist in Germany known as Karl Max. Karl Max is referred to as the father of conflict theory. His description of conflict theory and the history of class struggle are documented in “Das Kapital” one of his most famous works. His work has been expounded by other sociologists who came after him. Conflict theorists argue that conflicts between competing groups in the society determine human behavior. According to Karl Max, human societies should be understood in terms of social classes. He described the society in terms of conflict between workers and people who owned production means (capitalist societies). Although the descriptions of conflict theory differ among other thinkers, a major characteristic is that different groups struggle toward achievement of similar resources, which are scarce, but they do not have equal power. Conflict theory is used to provide explanations of various human behaviors, such as practices in education, which challenge or sustain ranks, crime related behaviors, and traditions about the elderly in the society. Marx stated that social life is by individual’s occupation through which individuals gets their basic needs, such food, clothing, and shelter. He argued that each activity in the society is influenced by technology applied in the means of production and organization of work in the society. According to Marx, valuable things in the society arise from human labor. Individuals holding similar positions and entitled to same life chances in the market economy are said to belong to the same class. An individual’s position in the economy determines his or her chance to access basic and desirable things in the society (Sljukic & Sljukic, 2011).

According to Sljukic and Sljukic (2011), material, and non-material wealth differ from an individual to another and from a social group to another in every society. Some members of the society are poor (subject class) whereas others are rich (ruling class). Marx argued that the wealthy powerful members of the society oppress and exploit the poor for individual gains. Exploitation is mainly achieved through economics and forced labor. For instance, workers are paid little wages in comparison with work done by the rich. The rich continue accumulating wealth as the poor sink in poverty. Labor, land, and capital are referred to as production means by Karl Max whereas relationship between classes and division of labor are referred to as production reactions in the society. Moreover, continual conflict between groups leads to development of the society. Marx suggested for the reorganization of the society so that ownership and control of properties is collective as the correct measure in solving the problem of class struggle in capitalistic societies.

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism also referred to as interaction perspective is based on symbolic meaning attached and relied upon by people during the process of interaction. The origin of symbolic interactionism is traced from the work of Max Weber who argued that the behavior of people depends on interpretation and meaning attached to an event. This implies that peoples behaviors is determined by interpretation and meaning attached to something. This perspective was introduced in America by Herbert Mead a Philosopher in America in 1920s. Interactionism theory borrows from identification of information, cooperation, conflict, and other social process that arise from interaction of human beings. It deals with the study human behaviors resulting from interaction with other people. The theory was founded by James Parker and it has been the foundation for many theories in sociology to day since its inception in the 19th century. It was later developed by Herbert Mead, and later expounded by Herbart Blumer who developed the concept of symbolic interactionism (Norman & Lonnie, 2011).

Interactionism is used in the analysis of the society by discussing the subjective meaning attached to certain behaviors, events, and objects by people in the society. The theory is based on the assumption that people’s behaviors are based on their beliefs rather than the truth. The society is shaped by people’s interpretation of events in the society. Social bond is formed by interpretation of individual’s behavior by other members of the society. The situation is defined by interpretations. For instance, many people continue smoking despite knowledge of health hazards related to smoking. Studies show that tobacco smoking among the youths is widely spread because of its associated benefits. They argue that smoking relieves stress and brings a cooling effect on the body. The symbolic meaning attached to smoking by youths outweighs the facts of the risks associated with smoking (Norman & Lonnie, 2011).

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Norman and Lonnie (2011) state that the way people learn, interpret, and provide meaning to events during interaction with other people is known as symbolic interactionism. According to Blumer, symbolic interactionism is governed three major principles, namely language, meaning, and thought. These principles determine individual’s behavior and socialization with other members of the society. The behavior of human beings toward things or people is determined by the meaning attached to those things or people. Meaning is created during interaction with family and community members. The meaning attached to this is not permanent. It can be modified during the interaction process. Meaning is a major determining factor of human behavior according to symbolic interactionism. Ability to name objects is unique among human beings. The language and meaning attached to various words in the society is learned by children as they interact with peers and members of the family. This makes language the basis of forming meaning. Language acts as the vehicle through which meaning is attained in the process of interaction. According to Mead, communication, and interaction between people in the society is impossible unless people use and understand the same language. Thought deals with interpretation of information. The capacity of thinking varies from an individual to another. Because people have different thinking capacities, they also interpret information differently. The process of interpreting symbols is influenced by individual’s thoughts. The language used determines individual’s thoughts.

How the Theories Apply Within the Family Institution

Sociological theories are applicable within the family institution. The family is made up of the father, mother, and children, and each family member is entitled to certain duties. For instance, the head of the family (father or mother) should provide the family with basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and education. Children can help in household chores. For the success of the family, each member of the family must play his or her role. Functionalists encourage members of the family to play their role for the benefit of the whole family. Members of the family think and interpret events in different ways. This is a major challenge causing chaos in many households because of the tendency to perceive one’s opinions to be right. It is important for members of the family to understand that they are created different with different thinking capacities, interests, and likes. This knowledge will help in solving problems in the family. Last, members of the family should learn to share resources equally regardless of individual’s power and wealth. Instead of exploiting the poor, the rich should learn to support and change the living standards of the poor (Aldiabat & Navenec, 2011).

Similarities and Differences of Sociological Theories

According to Kishwar (2010), the three theories are applicable in the study of the structure of the society. The functionalist approach views the society as a complex system comprising various elements, which participate for the society to be stable. Symbolic interactionism focus on meaning attached to people, things, and events during the process of interaction in the society. Conflict theory focuses on power as the determining factor of human behavior. Conflict and Functionalism approaches are macro-spective while interactionism is micro-spective. Conflict and functionalist approaches do not focus on individuals but the whole society. Both approaches examine the effects of education, family, marriage, and other structures in the society on individuals. Both argue that education is the main determinant of individual’s position in the society. Symbolic interactionism focuses on individuals rather than the society. The approach examines how various structures are influenced by individuals.

The three theories differ in approaches used in studying the society. Structural functionalism examines the society as a structure composed of interrelated parts, each serving its own function for the benefit of the society. Symbolic interactionism stresses of meaning attached to events in the process of interaction whereas conflict theory focuses on differences in power, for example, conflicting classes. Functionalism and conflict theory differ in the views of functions of various structures in the society. Functionalists hold that social structures must cooperate for the benefit of all members of the society. Conflict theorists hold that power and wealth are major factors that determine the degree an individual benefits from social structures (Kishwar, 2010).

Effects of Sociological Theories on the Views Individual’s in the Family

Sociological theories influence views of individuals in the family about some aspects within the family. For instance, supporters of conflict theory will tend to think that people should benefit from the resources of the family on the basis of individuals power and wealth whereas critics will support equal treatment of all people. Functionalism encourages members of the family to cooperate for success of the family. Members of the family are meant to understand that they should expect differences because of differences in thinking and interpretation of events. This knowledge is important because family members learn to understand each other (Sever, 2012).

Effects of Sociological Theories on the Approach of Social Change and Perception of the Society

Knowledge of sociological theories influences changes in society as well as perception of the society by the members of the family. The behavior of members of the family will be based on understanding of the theories. If members of the family belief in functionalism, they will cooperate with other members of the society for the benefit of all. If they do not, they will not cooperate. Supporters of conflict theory will expect benefits on the basis of power and wealth whereas critics will expect equal access to resources. Interpretation and meaning attached to events and people determine the behavior of members of the family in the society. Change in the society depends on perception of various sociological theories. Differences in perception and understanding of these theories influence changes in the society (Norman & Lonnie, 2011).


Theories are developed to provide explanations for patterns, interactions, and events in the society. The scales of theories vary from one theory to another. For instance, the process through, which societies operate, is explained by macro-level theories, such as conflict, and structural functionalism whereas individuals interactions are explained by micro-level theories like symbolic interactionism. Sociological theories play a major role in the family.

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Aldiabat, K. & Navenec, C. (2011). Philosophical roots of classical grounded theory: its foundations in symbolic interactionism. Qualitative Report, 16(4), 1063-1080.

Kishwar, R. (2010). Introduction to culture studies. New York, NY: Global Media.

Norman, D. & Lonnie, A. (2011). Studies in symbolic interaction, 36: interactionalism: emerging landscape. New York, NY: Emerald Group Publishing.

Sever, M. (2012). A critical look at the theories of sociology of education. International Journal of Human Sciences, 9(1), 650-671.

Sljukic, S. & Sljukic, M. (2011). Social conflict as a companion of civilizations. Annual Review of the Faculty of Philosophy, 36(2), 309-318.

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