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Introduction to Family Studies

Course Code

of 2
Two approaches
1) By structure: marital, genetic connection, or adoption
2) By functional: economic, emotional support, sexuality, childbearing and rearing, daily
care etc.
Definitions of family
1) By Statistics Canada: more strict definition because even a minor change may yield huge
changes in tax systems -> should maintain conservative position
2) By Carol Stack: broad, open definition; kinship does not matter as long as they provide
care and interact on the daily basis
Household: people who occupy the same dwelling, and may consist of more than one families
(one family can have more than one households as well)
Monogamy: one person marries to only one person at a time
Polygamy: one person marries to several others of the opposite sex
1) Polygyny: a man who has two or more wives at the same time (-> more common)
2) Polyandry: one woman is married to several men
Nuclear family
Usually regarded as married parents + their children
Considered as somewhat “natural, inevitable and therefore universal
BUT anthropologists have found tremendous diversity across human societies in terms of
how the relations between parents and children, males and females are organized
Extended family: nuclear family + other relatives
The Standard North American Family (SNAF)
Mother, father, their biological children
Gendered division of labor and best unit for rearing children
Malinowskis concept of the family
Despite anthropologists, he still believes Families as universal existence because it fulfills
a universal human need: nurturance of young children
Three features: clear boundaries (nuclear relations), physical space (home), particular set
of emotions (love)
19th century trend
Proud and celebrated capitalist development, sense of moral emptiness, fear of instability
and loss
Rising of evolutionary accounts, stressing of underlying continuities in all social forms
Belief: women – nurturing, reproduction first, thus excluded from business, competition,
social changes
Structural-functional theory (macro-level)
Functions: physical protection, emotional support, socialization
Structure: organized around three statues and roles = husband/father, wife/mother,
Gendered role expectation: husband = task leader / wife = emotional leader
How the family is related to other institutions
How it contributes to the society as a whole
How society maintains its values through generations
Positive aspects of relationship
The basis for social policy
Fails to see family changes
Fails to see family tensions/conflicts existing within families
Narrowly defined: low tolerance to those who depart from the nuclear family
Conflict theories
Unequal power relationship among family members
Feminist perspective: male dominance and control against women
See family changes as a result of shifts/no shifts in the balance of power
Negative aspects of family
Driving forces of family studies
Social exchange theories
Ongoing bargaining process with calculations and negotiations to achieve fair trades
because spouses behave with their own-interest rather than the needs of the whole family
Strong in explaining family dynamics but sometimes problematic assumptions
Symbolic-interaction theories (micro-level)
From perspective of family individual members, not the whole society
From their words, actions in everyday encounter: looking glass self, role playing