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Conflict Perspective on Family as a Social Institution

care of the children and performs domestic tasks. But to conflict theorist
family is compose ofconflicting classes-one class (men) oppressing the other
class (women). Family is seen asocial arrangement benefiting some people
more than others. Fredrick Engel contented thatmarriage was he firs form of
class antagonism in which the well being of one group derivedfrom misery
and oppression of another. The motivation for sexual pleasure was the
economicexploitation of woman’s labour.22
Sources of conflict in family
How can we analyze marriages and families in terms of conflict and power?
Marriage andfamily relationships are base on love and affection, aren’t they?
Conflict theorist would agreethat love and affection are important elements
in marriages and families. But they believe thatconflict and power are also
Family relationships = love & affection + conflict and power
Marriages and families are composed of individuals with different
personalities, ideas,values, tastes, and goals. Each person is not always in
harmony with every other person in thefamily. Imagine that you are living at
home and want to do something your parents don’twant you to do, such as
spend the week-end with a friend they don’t like. They forbid you tocarry out
your plan. “As long as you live in this house, you will have to do what we
say.” Youargue with them, but in the end you stay home. Why did your
parents win the disagreement?They did so because they had greater power,
according o conflict theorists.
Conflict theorists do not believe that conflict is bad; instead, they think it is a
natural part offamily life. Families always have disagreements, from small
ones, such as what do cook fordinner, to major ones, such as how to rear
Families differ in the number of underlying conflicts of interest, the degree of
hostility, and the nature and extent of the expression of conflict.
Conflict can take the form of competing goals, such as husband’s wanting to
buy T.V. set and
a wife’s wanting to pay off credit cards.
Conflict can also occur because of different role expectations; and employed
mother wants todivide housework fifty-fifty, but her husband insists that
household chores are “women’s work.”23
22 Hughes. M, Kroehler. C. (2005). Sociology The Core. 7th Ed: McGraw-Hill
Inc. p. 359
23 Strong B, etal. (1998).Opcit. Pp: 54-55
Imran Ahmad Sajid
Page 8
Conflict Perspective on Family as a Social Institution
Family is a group of people with differences- in age, sex and personalities.
Therefore the
occurrence of conflict is quite natural.
Source of power in family
When conflict occurs, who wins? Family members have different resources
and amount of
power. Four important sources of power are;



Physical coercion and

When arguments arise in a family, a man may want his way “because I am
the head of thehouse” or a parent “because I am your mother.” These
appeals are based on legitimacy-that is,the belief that the person is entitled
to prevail by right. This is one source of power in family.
The second source of power is money. It is a powerful source in marriages
and families. “Aslong as you live in this house….” is a directive based on the
power of the purse. Becauseparents have greater economic power-man
particularly; this economic power translates intomarital power. Those family
members who earn a greater sum of family earnings have greaterpower than
those who earn less or do not earn at all.
Physical coercion is another important source of power. “If you don’t do as I
tell you, youwill get a spanking” is one of the most common forms of
coercion of children. But physicalabuse of a spouse is also common.
Finally, there is the power of love. Love can be used to coerce someone
emotionally, as in “ifyou really loved me, you’d do what I ask.” Or love can
be a freely given gift, as in the case ofa person’s giving up something
important, such as a plan, desire, or career, to enhance a relationship.
Every one in family has power, although the power may be different and
unequal. Adolescent
children, for example, have few economic resources, so hey must depend on
their parents.
Imran Ahmad Sajid
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Conflict Perspective on Family as a Social Institution

This dependency gives the parents power. But adolescents also have power
through the
exercise of personal charm, ingratiating habits, temper tantrums, wheedling,
and so on.24
Woman as sexual property
Sociologist Randall Collins says that historically men have been the “sexual
aggressors” andwomen the “sexual prizes for men.” Males are dominant due
to their greater strength, size,and aggressiveness. Women have been
victimized by smaller size and their vulnerability aschild bearers. Over entire
history, women have been taken as a sexual property, taken asbooty in war,
used by their fathers in economic bargaining, and considered the property
oftheir husbands.
According to Collins, men have ordered society so that women are their
sexual property.They claim exclusive sexual rights to a woman much in the
manner that they determineaccess to economic property like buildings and
land and other elements of property. Marriagebecomes a socially enforced
contract of sexual property. A woman’s virginity is was theproperty of her
father and her sexuality the property of her husband.
Now that women’s bargaining position has improved due to economic and
political changesin recent years. When they are no longer dependent on and
under control of their fathers; theybecame potentially free to negotiate their
own sexual relationships. But women found thatwithin the free marriage
market they had to trade their sexuality for the economic and
statusresources of men. As men have much greater economic resources and
status in the society.Now for women to get these resources and maximize
her bargaining power, she has to appearboth as sexually alluring and as
inaccessible as possible. She has to hold her sexuality inreserve as a sort of
grand prize that she exchanges for male wealth and status. Under such
anarrangement, femininity and female virginity came to be idealized, and
women were placedon a pedestal, so that an element of sexual repression
was built into courtship ties, freeingthemselves from economic dependence
on men, they have gained he resources to challengehe double standard. The
sexual bargains they strike can focus less upon marriage and moreupon
immediate entertainment, companionship and sexual gratification.25
Other approach to family in conflict perspective
Although conflict theory emerged from the ideas of Friedrich Engels and Karl
Marx, other
social scientists have approached the issue of family somewhat differently.
Sigmund Freud
24 Strong B, etal. (1998).Opcit. Pp: 54-55
25 Zanden V., Wilfrid J. (1990). The Social experience: an introduction to
McGraw Hill Inc. P: 373
Imran Ahmad Sajid
Page 10

Conflict Perspective on Family as a Social Institution

and Georg Simmel also advanced a conflict approach to the family. They
contended thatintimae relationships inevitably involve antagonism as well as
love. More recently,sociologists have suggested that conflict is a part of all
systems and interactions, includingfamily systems and marital interactions.
They see family members as confronting twoconflicting demands; to
compete with one another for autonomy, authority, and privilege,
andsimultaneously o share one another’s fate in order to survive and even
Critique on Conflict perspective on Family
A number of difficulties arise in conflict theory. This theory seems to see
whatever is there inthe society, every social arrangement, every social
grouping and stratification, is wrong.There is nothing good in the society.
Even the loving couples and the caring parents are notgood. The intimacy
among family members is not a positive phenomena but a tool in
themembers hand to dominate other members.
First, conflict theory derives from politics, in which self-interest, egotism, and
competitionare dominant elements. People’s behavior is also characterized
by self-sacrifice andcooperation. Love is an important quality in relationships.
Conflict theorists don’t often talkabout the power of love or bonding; yet the
presence of love and bonding may distinguish thefamily from all other
groups in society. We often make sacrifice for the sake of hose we love.We
will defer our own wishes o another’s desires; we may even sacrifice our lives
for a lovedone. Don’t we?
Second, conflict theorists assume that differences lead to conflict.
Differences can also beaccepted, tolerated or appreciated. Differences do
not necessarily imply conflict. Just thinkthat who cooperate with each other?
Whether without differences would there becooperation? If there won’t be
any difference with whom would you cooperate, both wouldbecome the
Third, conflict in families is no easily measured or evaluated. Families live
much of theirlives privately, and outsiders are not always aware of whatever
conflict exists or howpervasive it is. Also, much over conflict is avoided
because it is regulated through family andsocietal rules. Most children obey
their parents, and most spouses, although they may argueheatedly, don not
employ violence.27
26 Zanden V., Wilfrid J. (1990).opcit. P: 373
27 Strong B, etal. (1998).Opcit. Pp: 55-56
Imran Ahmad Sajid
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Conflict Perspective on Family as a Social Institution

Fourth, according to conflict perspective woman is a sexual property and she
exchanges hersexuality in return for wealth and status. What for daughters,
sisters or aged people? Whatwill they do? If women get the freedom to make
sexual relationships as they want and themen are free from women
responsibility. Who will take care of children, for aged and otherdependent
members of the family? Of course State does share some responsibility but
theprimary responsibility of protection of the children and aged is a family
Pointing to the conclusion, family is not a social arrangement to oppress one
group by theother group. If the parents do not allow their children to do a
particular work, it is notoppression but it is for their own betterment. The
parents have to socialize their children in aparticular way so that they
become a normal member of the society. To conflict theoristfamilies should
not be established. Family institution is a domestic slavery for women.
Howstupid to think that our mother, daughter, sister, and wife are our slaves.
Does it make anysense? I see family as a functional component of the
society performing key role insocialization of the children and many other
essential tasks. It is the family which providesemotional support. It is the
family in which one can found unjealous joy over his or hersuccess. It is
family where one finds enduring sympathy in time of trouble.
Imran Ahmad Sajid
Page 12

Family as Social Institution: A Conflict Perspective

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zeeleo left a comment
definition of family institutions
04 / 27 / 2010
imranahmadsajid replied:
Well, if you read the document, you will find the definition of family institution for sure.
05 / 01 / 2010
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