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The Family an Example of a Primary Group

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Essay title: The Family an Example of a Primary Group


“The family we are born into is the small group to which most of us owe our primary allegiance for the first fifteen or twenty years of our life, and, indeed for many people in our society, it remains a focus for allegiance throughout their lives.” (Douglas 1983: p86 Quoted from Tajfel 1978:p179)

People can establish or grow their social structure, status and leadership abilities just by being a part of a group of people. Many theorists have discovered and revealed reasons why people join group, as Carl Jung stated that member belongs to a group because of personality dimensions. With regard to the family group, members are born / adopted into the group and have lifetime membership.

The focus of this assignment is unlike voluntary or involuntary group organisation. The research study proposes to find out the functions of the family group, whether the family can be defined as a primary group and reasons for group membership in a group. It also strives to define the physical environment that surrounds the group. The group structure is also dealt with and defined i.e. norms, values, sanctions, roles and status that govern the family group. The process of group development is also explored as well as any leadership roles that are present in the family dealt with.

The methodology used was a literature review and this was then was used to further investigate family group behaviour according to the different authors. The objective of this assignment is to distinguish how group theories relate to the family group. The information gathered was then used to relate any interesting findings the author had discovered about group behaviour from the literature and then used to analyse the author’s own family group.



‘Most definitions define the family as an institution based on the notion of man-women-children nuclear family and the central function it performs.’ (Barnard:2007) The family group occurs naturally through stages. The dyadic relationship between the parents firstly arises. Dyadic implies a group that contains exactly two interacting people. It then develops into a primary group after the parents introduce child/children into the group to develop a sub-group. Their territoriality is represented by their home, that is, a place of significance and the family would generally sacrifice everything to protect it

2.1.1 Functions of the family group

Bezuidenhout (2007) describes the functions of groups as being a vehicle for social change, a haven for individuals in time of need, also enabling individuals to achieve what they can not on their own and to provide a psychosocial environment to meet the individuals psychological and social needs. There is no really choice to be part of a family, one is born into it. As a child grows up, the need for guidance and support from the parents increase and a family group support emerges. From the above functions, being part of family satisfies all the functions of a group and the family almost always come together to move forward in triumphing over obstacles or achieving goals.

2.1.2 Primary Groups

‘Primary groups are characterized by intimate face-to-face association and cooperation. They are primary in the several senses, but chiefly in that are fundamental in forming the social nature and ideals of the individual.’(Cooley: 1909) The family group can be described as primary group because they interact on the daily basis in the home environment.

2.1.3 Reasons for group membership

The home is the haven for the family. There is the proximity factor (people tend to form groups with people closest to them), day to day interaction, shared activities done within the household, emotional support is readily given and there can also be homophily factors a cultural household.


The physical environment refers to the place where groups interact and allow for social dealings. In the family group the physical environment is the community or suburb in which the members live. It is normally a home, flat or any other type of residence or shelter. The home enables the group members to communicate, share meals together and also serves as a place of resting. The home, the family physical environment, therefore enables the family members to meet their needs and to survive or sustain themselves and almost always there are interactions between the group members. (Bezuidenhout, 2007, p5)


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