Family and marriage have always been the key structures of most societies. Marriage and family as relationships have become more complex, and sociologists have developed interest in studying these interconnections. This research has led to the sociologists’ efforts to develop sociological theories such as conflict theory, functionalism, and the integrationist theory. All of them were aimed to explain aspects of marriage and family structure. This essay is intended to suggest an appropriate sociological theory that best fits marriage and family structures in the Arab world.
Marriage refers to a social contract or agreement between two individuals and is traditionally based on a sexual relationship. In most societies marriage is legally recognized as a permanent union between a husband and a wife (Williams 43). Family, on the other hand, comprises of a husband, a wife, and their children. This can also extend to grandparents. In simple terms, marriage can lead to a creation of what, in this case, is referred to as a family. Based on the sociological theories of marriage and family structure, much can be understood about these concepts. (Williams 45).
Engels, Weber, and Marx among others have majorly contributed to the conflict theory on marriage and family structures. The conflict theory in a broader perspective focuses on aspects such as inequality that seems to be prevalent in almost every marriage and family especially as it relates to inferiority of women. For instance, according to Marx, Weber, and Engels, an argument over who is to do house chores demonstrates a struggle over limited resources of energy, time, and leisure. Conflict theory also articulates that, since most husbands ignore housework, their wives have no alternative but to do what is expected of them despite possibly having other work to do (Gurman 19). According to a sociological study, women spend eight hours of a day in their workplaces and eleven hours on average every week doing the housework. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “the second shift” that the men take advantage of. It has led to the development of four strategies of resistances: playing dumb, needing reduction, substitution and waiting out (Gurman 26).
The second theory on marriage and family structure is the interactionism theory. The interactionism theory specifically focuses on communication patterns, adjustment, and interaction between individuals with the help of symbols. The theory alleges that activities shared by married couples and families help build emotional bonds between family members especially husband and wife (Morgan 32). The theory also states that relationships like family and marriage are primarily based on negotiations. The theory also highlights that families and marriages reinforce their bonds through such symbolic rituals as family holidays and meals.
Additionally, the theory states that if a couple’s earnings are comparable, they are more likely to share their daily house chores. Most laid-off husbands, however, decrease their housework while men earning less than their wives do the least amount of chores. The interactionists attribute this phenomenon to the issue of gender roles (Rohall 60). If a husband is making less than his wife or gets laid off, his role as the provider of the family is diminished. This exposes him to such threats as emasculation. Moreover, it has been noted that husbands who find themselves in such situation are never pleased with their marriages.
The third theory that explicitly explains aspects of family and marriage structure is the functionalism theory. The functionalists’ approach, which is also known as structural functionalism, explores the relationship of families and other parts of society focusing on how families creates and maintain the wellbeing of their respective communities (Hammond 49). According to the functionalists’ views, families fulfill six universal needs: economic production, caring for the aged and the sick, sexual control, reproduction, recreation, and the socialization of children. All these requirements form the backbone of every society, and they seem to be essential to communities (Hammond 50).
The functionalism also explains the incest taboo, which prohibits related people to marry or have sex. This restriction helps families avoid confusion and ensures that people look for marriage partners outside their families. Furthermore, according to the functionalists’ views, dysfunctions and deviations from the societal norms and behaviors are emotional for nuclear families(Van Krieken 23). The extended families are different, because there are more people to count on for emotional and material support. Also as far as marriage and family structure is concerned, functionalists allege that family as a unit creates well-integrated members of society. It introduces new members of society to established cultural values. Lastly, the family structure leads to ascribed statuses that incorporate the social class and the ethnicity of new members of society within a family setup (Van Krieken 24).
In my opinion, marriage and family structure in the Arab world can be well explained by the functionalism theory. It is worth noting that these views interpret how people relate to other members of their families especially in context marriage and household structure. For example, the Arab world values sibling relationships, which has led to the issue of men learning that loving women also means controlling them (Rohall 60). Thus, sibling relationships resulted in a critical feature of socialization between males and females. Another thing that the functionalists help us understand about the Arab world are matters of family and marriage is context of gender and age. In the Arab world, much is understood on the issue of patriarchy that gives a lot of privileges to men over women (Rohall 60). Interactionism theory is also relevant in Arab culture, because males and females in a family are bound to some symbols and meanings. As far as marriage and family structure of the Arab world is concerned, males and females are defined by their value to the family. For example, male children are nurtured to be authoritative as they will become heads of their own families when they grow. They also have more authority than older women (Rohall 60).
In conclusion, the essay explicitly explores the three theories that explain and examine marriage and family structure across the world. According to these three theories, the inequalities within marriage and family institutions are related to women’s inferiority in various societal setups. According to Marxists, the struggle over who is to do the housework is triggered by the issue of limited resources such as time, leisure and energy. The integrationist theory deeply examines the contrasting experiences women and men have in a family structure. Lastly, the discussion touches on a functionalist theory that explains on how family members relate to other parts of society and how they contribute to society’s well-being.