Lecture 3 September 27, 2011
Week 3: Is the Nuclear Family Universal? Cross-cultural Patterns and a Description of Foraging Societies
- Can we assume it is a natural unit?
- Nuclear Family 2 adults and children composition of the unit that tries to address peoples needs
anything beyond that is something else, a different kind of family
- Definition that focuses on relationships that focuses on carrying for people, dependents, and
relationships more than that trying to address needs of adults. This differs from legal and census
definitions but we need a different definition for our class daily is not important it just conveys
regularity and on-going
- It also does not introduce issue of emotions and feelings due to the need to apply to various
cultures notice definition as we go along
- Nuclear is a particular composition 2 adults and children no indication of organization or
relations. IT is a technical term specifying a form of family
Historical Materialism or simply Materialism today Fox will illustrate this approach
It insists that family is a product of social history, not a product of biology but rather a particular family
D. Evolutionary Psychology A Biological-Determinist Argument [last week]
The argument: Behaviour that contributed to reproductive success was naturally
selected through the generations, over the course of human evolution. Thus, women
and men (who faced different adaptive problems in early human societies) now have
different innate predispositions for behaviour affecting our sexuality. (This is Darwins
model of the evolution of bodies applied to behaviour.)
- How biology determines certain behaviour * opposing materialism perspective.
Fox believes it is too simplistic, wrong on many levels but it is fairly popular
- It argues behaviour with respect to sexuality is innate, built into our genetics,
brain, etc. it is taking Darwins ideas on bodies and apply to behaviour and social
- Ex: of an argument: Smart females in early human societies had learned they
should be picky with who they have sex with because women have consequence
of pregnancy. Thus is wise women would find a man to provide for them, thus
being reproductively successful, having more children, more children had more
characteristics of mothers, behavioural characteristics matched bred into genes
and more children have those characteristics
- BUT- Social explanations for behaviour however are much more clear and
obvious! Thus women are weary of casual sex due to social consequences
arguments are more convincing saying over time human culture evolved,
wisdom, institutions, people adapted to environment, created customs, marriage
allowed them to adapt, taught children traditions that evolved over time
David Buss, Psychological Sex Differences through Sexual Selection, for example,
1) Women needed a man to provide for them during pregnancy and lactation.
Those who found one had greater reproductive success. Thus, women are now
naturally selective about whom they choose as sexual partners (more than men
are) and motivated to form partnerships with men.
1 Comment: There are alternative ways early human communities might have provided
support for a mother.
2) There are gender differences in the consequences of having sex (potential
pregnancy for women, nothing for men). Men benefited, then, in having many sex
partners (and women didnt). Thus, women are naturally selective about their
sexual partners; men are more inclined to have casual sex.
Comment: There are obvious social causes of these gender differences we see today
(e.g., differences in socialization, greater social constraints on womens sexuality, etc.)
3) More men are available for sex than women, at any point in time (given
pregnancy). Thus, men are sexually competitive. Comment: same as above.
4) Paternity is uncertain. Thus women did much more child care than men. And
they do so today.
Comment: There are social reasons why women do more child care than men; there is
no need to resort to a biological-determinist explanation. By this logic that behaviour
today is the product of evolution -- we could argue that the nuclear, heterosexual family
is a natural product of the biology of reproduction.
Comment: Arguments that behaviour and institutions are products of evolution assume
that behaviour that is (or might be) adaptive in our society was adaptive in societies
hundreds of thousands of years ago, as humans evolved. But we are not sure what the
adaptive challenges were then, and what kinds of behaviour best equipped people to
survive and reproduce successfully. Alternative argument: an evolution of human
culture in which wisdom and knowledge acquired over time was passed down from one
generation to another, adults teaching children.
I. Cross-cultural Evidence on Family Patterns
- First look at how people organize themselves to do the basic work they need
to do to survive- this comes out of a materialist approach
- We do not ask what they believe in or what are dominant beliefs (that would
be a cultural approach)
A. Our common-sense assumptions about gender and family
- Is the nuclear family natural?
- Women being primary care givers for children b/c child-bearers?
= Seems natural BUT,
Sociology is a social science, we should not say things we just
believe, we should test our ideas and have evidence for our
arguments, and (this is what it means to be a social science)
B. The evidence on the range of human societies
- reviews evidence
F. Edholms summary- looks at diversity of human cultures, shows that
there is not really anything universal about family patterns.
1) Conception and sex: understanding the relationship?
2- How it is understood
- Every culture if you look at older cultures than ours, they all have
reproduction stories, and how it occurred.
- People did not understand the biology until the 19 century so for a
long time people did not understand biological reproduction
- Thus the facts of biology are irrelevant if people do not understand it,
they do not connect sex with reproduction/pregnancy- there were
many other understandings
2) The mother-child relationship not always close
- Those relationships are not always the same across cultures
- In some societies, biological mothers do not raise children
- Ex. Child given up for adoption extreme example foraging societies have
- Today- we believe in maternal instinct- mothers naturally know what to do when
they have children, there is NO evidence of this though- a myth
- The most common reaction of new mothers to babies is confusion, women do not
know how to care for babies unless taught
- They must learn how to care for babies
- In Toronto today, when women get pregnant today