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The family is a social institution as well as an agent of socialization that is socially constructed and historically changing. For example, historically traditional families were the norm.
Today there are more single-parent, divorced and same-sex families than there are traditional families.
Sociological theories help us understand how institutions have changed over time.
Our understanding of the family as a social institution can be enhanced by applying theories.
Consider how the three major theories, Functionalist developed by Durkheim, Conflict developed by Marx, and Symbolic Interactionist developed by Mead can be applied to the family.
Apply the three sociological theories, as described by Marx, Durkheim and Mead to a discussion of the family as a social institution.
Be sure to explain each theory and provide examples of how they can be applied to understanding the family.
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Part 1: Summary of the sociological journal article
1.1 Purpose of the article
The article chosen for the discussion is “Family Instability and Child Well-being,” authored by Paula Fomby and Andrew J. Cherlin from the John Hopkins University. This article was published in 2007 in the journal American Sociological Review. The purpose of this article is to estimate and understand the relationship between the development of children and the level of stability that their families have, since there might be a relationship between the negative outcomes of the children and the attributes and behaviors of the parents.
1.2 Main points of the author’s argument
The main points of the authors’ argument can be narrowed down to the following (Fomby& Cherlin, 2007):
- Children who are part of multiple family transitions usually fare worse compared to those who have had a childhood in a stable family.
- There is a relationship between the eccentricity of the parents’ behaviors and the negative outcomes of the children.
- It is usually the mother’s characteristics that determine the outcomes in terms of cognitive outcomes of the children, in case of white families.
- Children who spend a significant amount of time in families with single-parent structures usually experience a transformation in their nature.
Part 2: Critical analysis of the sociological journal article
2.1 Research orientation of the author
In this article, the authors have adopted an interpretivist approach to find the answers to their research questions. The interpretivist approach indicates an understanding of the subjective experiences of the society or the sociological phenomenon instead of merely observing the details (Chowdhury, 2014). Sociological research of this kind is grounded on drawing conclusions based on objective facts, and the interpretivist approach makes use of these very conclusions to seek out the sociological data for scientifically seeking an explanation to their questions. In this particular research, the authors have collected the relevant data from other journals and publications that are based on the same research objective as theirs, which had longitudinal and detailed data, documented after interviewing a number of respondents eligible for the research purpose (Fomby& Cherlin, 2007).
2.2 Level of analysis
The level of analysis that has been utilized by the authors can be said to be micro in nature. Traditionally, a micro-level analysis deals with the social interaction between small groups or individuals within a particular community (Winker & Degele, 2011). This research focuses mostly on the families residing in the United States, and much of the data has also been based on families that were white. Much of the data recorded, along with the outcomes, can be said to be inapplicable for black or interracial families, as suggested by the authors themselves.
2.3 Sociological approach of the author
In the chosen article, the authors have adopted a symbolic-interactionist approach to addressing their research. This approach treats society as the outcome of the interaction of individuals on a daily basis. In other words, the thinking behind the symbolic-interactionist sociological approach states that there is always a pattern when it comes to individuals and how they interact (Dennis, 2011). It is a micro-level theory that is mostly used to understand and evaluate the relationship between various components within a society. Similarly, this paper analyses the relationship between the behavioral outcomes of the children and the level of stability that their families have, which largely determine the quality of interaction between these two entities.
2.4 Limitations of the author’s approach
There are certain limitations of the authors’ approach, which have been stated by the researchers themselves (Fomby& Cherlin, 2007):
- The children who were considered for the study were 8 to 14 years old, which implies that there is little or no data available for those who are older (or even younger).
- The interviews were focused only on those children who lived with their mothers, thereby indicating that the cognitive outcomes were based largely on the mother’s characteristics.
- The sample population was primarily white and did not take into consideration the Hispanic or the African Americanfamilies, which further limits the scope of the study.
However, it must be noted that the study does have its own strength – most of the mothers considered for this research were quite young, which would ultimately help understand the relationship between the age (and therefore maturity and experience) of the mother and the behavioral outcomes and upbringing of the children.
2.5 Personal perspective on the research
My personal perspective on the research is that while it does try to decipher the relationship between the behavioral outcomes of the children and the level of stability of the families they are part of, it fails to be inclusive of all the communities, which raises questions and limits regarding the applicability of the results. This is because the authors themselves have stated that they have not considered the Hispanic population, and the fact that the mother’s characteristics affected the children’s cognitive development was primarily based on data collected on white women only.
Part 3: Article vs piece of media
3.1 Understanding of the represented social issue
The piece of media that has been chosen for this research is the movie, American Beauty, which was released in 1999.The social issue that has been represented in the research article and the chosen media is that of the well-being of the children in relation to the stability of the families they were part of.
3.2 Relationship between the article and chosen media
In the movie, two families – the Burnhams and the Fitts – were largely unstable, and this has been reflected in the manner in which their children function. For instance, the Burnhams are stuck in an unhappy marriage, which causes issues in their everyday lives, and this has made their teenage daughter be apprehensive of them, in addition to have developed a very low self-esteem. On the other hand, the Fitts’ son is obsessed with his camcorder and spends a majority of his time recording in his bedroom. He also works as a waiter, which is only a ruse to cover up the fact that he was a marijuana dealer. This can easily be said to be the outcome of the actions of his excessively strict father, who is a retired colonel of the US Marine. His father is not only overbearing and a disciplinarian but had also forced his son to join the military academy, in addition to being responsible for an admission to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. Both the teenagers’ conditions were largely due to the unstable nature of their families, which is exactly what has been corroborated by the article as well.
3.3 Assumptions and implied understanding
From the movie that has been chosen for the purpose of this assignment, it is easy to state that although there has been no explicit message of how a family should function in the real world, it does portray the idea that the family is one social unit that needs to be stable if the future of the children is to be taken into consideration. The children as depicted in the movie were nothing but victims of two highly dysfunctional families where their parents were unhappy with each other and ended up taking it out on their children. It also indicates the message that being part of unstable families could be disastrous, often fatal, for the children, as they can fall prey to bad habits (such as drugs) and could also indulge in activities that were wrong simply because they never knew better. Thus, in order for children to have a normal life, it is important that families maintain a level of stability, even if it is a single-parent family.
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