SOC-320: Marriage and Family
This course is designed to give students a hands-on look at marriage and family life, with a focus on understanding social science research on marriage and family life and its current and future applications to students’ lives.
Sociologists define marriage as a socially supported union involving two or more individuals in what is regarded as a stable, enduring arrangement typically based at least in part on a sexual bond of some kind.
Marriage is considered a cultural universal, which means that it exists as a social institution in all cultures, even though marriage ceremonies, rules, and roles differ from one society to the next.
Marriage serves a variety of purposes. It is used to socially identify children in most societies by defining kinship ties to a mother, father, and extended family. It also regulates sexual behavior, transfers, preserves, or consolidates property, prestige, and power, and, most importantly, it is the foundation of the family institution.
Marriage is widely regarded as the basis of and foundation for the family in many societies, including the Western world and the United States. This is why, socially, marriage is often greeted with the expectation that the couple will have children, and why children born outside of marriage are sometimes stigmatized as illegitimate.
Sociologists are interested in the relationship between the institution of marriage and the institution of the family because, historically, marriages are what create a family, and families are the most basic social unit upon which society is built. Both marriage and family create status roles that are sanctioned by society.
In family sociology, as well as politics and religion, the question of what constitutes a family is a hot topic. Social conservatives often define the family as a structure, with each family member fulfilling a specific function (like father, mother, or child). Sociologists, on the other hand, tend to define family in terms of how members interact with one another rather than a rigid set of status roles. We’ll use the term “family” to refer to a socially recognized group (usually linked by blood, marriage, cohabitation, or adoption) that shares an emotional bond and functions as a societal economic unit. According to sociologists, different types of families can be identified based on how one enters them. A person’s birth family is referred to as their family of orientation. A marriage-based family is referred to as a procreation family. These distinctions are culturally significant about lineage issues.
The sociological understanding of what constitutes a family can be explained using two sociological paradigms: symbolic interactionism and functionalism. These two theories suggest that families are groups of people who see themselves as family members and act as such. Families, in other words, are groups of people who come together to form a strong primary group connection and maintain emotional ties to one another over time. These families could be made up of close friends or teammates. Furthermore, the functionalist perspective sees families as groups that play critical roles in society, both internally (within the family) and externally (within society) (for society as a whole)
Families look after each other’s physical, emotional, and social needs. Children are cared for and socialized by their parents. Adult children frequently look after their elderly parents later in life. While interactionism clarifies the subjective experience of belonging to a “family,” functionalism clarifies the many functions of families and their contributions to the maintenance of a balanced society (Parsons and Bales 1956). We’ll go over how these theories apply to families in more depth later.
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