SOC101Y1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 10: Social Forces, Parental Leave, Heterosexuality

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30 Jan 2013
Contemporary life presents difficult choices for those of us who live in or plan to live in families
Because family life is so familiar to us, we all too easily accept commonsense understandings that portray family
problems as personal, private, and attributable to human nature
Commonsense solutions prescribe individual change and ignore the social context
Family patterns that people have created are a response to the problems posed by the needs of daily survival
When you think of family, you likely think of the conventional NUCLEAR FAMILY
Whether or not you anticipate parenthood, and whatever the gender of the partner you dream of, you likely
envision a relationship in which the work and the responsibility, as well as the intimacy and joy, are shared
Most married women with or without children now have to assume some of the responsibility of breadwinning
These realities lead to obvious questions about when women should have time to have children and how they
will care for them
Men’s concerns centre on the growing elusiveness of occupational success in this uncertain economy
Men are increasingly pressured by women they live with to change in ways for which they are unprepared
Manhood was once equated with occupational success, but success is now harder to achieve and insufficient for
happy marriage
Today, many women expect men to be emotionally open AND to aggressively pursue occupational success and
sharing the housework
Lesbians and gays face even greater challenges creating families in a society organized around heterosexuality
and gender divisions
Inequalities based on social class and the disadvantage women and facial minorities face in the labour force
provide the inhospitable context in which all Canadians build their families
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Although conventional family patterns are in decline, our society still seems to be organized around nuclear
families and the assumption that children are a private responsibility (Examples: houses are designed for nuclear
families, social policies often assume family membership and men sharing their earnings with their wives)
Conventional gender roles also seem central to the organization of our society
The dearth of good, affordable daycare means that having children is difficult unless the mother becomes a full-
time homemaker
Thus a gendered division of labour has sustained families in an economy in which employers bear no direct
responsibility for the welfare of their employee’s families
“The Family” seems to be disintegrating
The 1950s wan a familistic decade: people married earlier, had more children, were less likely to divorce
Researchers find that women who combine motherhood with labour-force involvement are mentally and
physically healthier than those who stay home
There is little scientific evidence to support the belief that babies and toddlers need full-time mothers at home
Another myth is the popular view that the traditional European family consisted of three generations of family
living harmoniously under one roof
The extended-family households were rare in preindustrial Europe
Myths about family easily play into the hands of politicians who aim to reinforce individual responsibility for the
welfare of children and other dependants and to avoid providing the social services necessary to support adults
who care out those responsibilities
Political rhetoric uses the family to symbolize all that is good and decent
One reason for the popular fixation on the heterosexual nuclear family is that it seems to derive from the
biology of reproduction; BIOLOGICAL DETERMINISM (biology produces the family)was a popular view
A variant of biological determinism was EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY / SOCIOBIOLOGY (human behaviour is the
product of human evolution) and it applied the laws of biological evolution to social behaviour
However, there is no evidence to support whether or not the history of human evolution is linked with the
genetic encoding of behaviour
The argument about family is that over the course of human history, certain behaviours were adaptive because
they contributed to reproductive success
Males who were more aggressive and females who were more nurturing had more offspring; thus becoming
naturally selected and turned up in more and more individuals over generations
But research shows that women are no more empathic or sensitive to others than men are
The family is also a product of evolution; because children represent people’s genetic investment, it is argued
that evolutionary forces have selected a pattern that is most likely to ensure the survival of offspring by the
union of two parents in a lasting relationship
The claims of sociobiology do not accord with observable evidence; evidence on family patterns across various
cultures indicates that, although the nuclear family is common in many cultures, it is embedded in a larger
household that constitutes the unit of production, consumption, and child care (Example: in Europe during the
20th century, if a family could afford it, babies were given to wet nurses to be taken care of)
According to ethnographic evidence, in many non-Western cultures, mothers are the primary care givers for
babies but not for older children
So because the biology of reproduction is interpreted in different ways across different cultures, the role of the
father in conception is not always recognized
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There is a diversity of family patterns across history and cultures
It was widely believed that the best unit in which to raise children is the nuclear family; this notion was
promoted by T. Parsons in structural functionalism; the nuclear family exists because of the useful functions it
performs for the larger society
Structural functionalism dominated the study of families until recently
Problems with the structural functionalist perspective:
- Just because an institution performs a social function, there is no reason to assume that some other
institution might not perform that function equally well; whether exclusive care by the biological mother
and father is best for children is an empirical question
- It focuses on how institutions create social order and its consequent failure to analyze the tensions in
family life that can generate social change
- The functions that are emphasized allegedly meet the needs of society, not the individuals in it
How family is defined has practical and methodological consequences; rights and responsibilities follow from
Definitions differ by institutions, from schools, hospitals, and government
When social scientists define family, some of them still assume the nuclear unit which results in a focus on the
frequency with which nuclear-family patterns appear across history and cultures
Focusing on diversity in social patterns can help us acquire a better understanding of the nature of families
By studying diversity and noting the social circumstances that vary with family patterns, we can derive some
idea of the social forces and factors that influence those patterns
FAMILY is the set of relationships people create to share resources daily in order to ensure their own and any
dependants’ welfare; focuses on what is of critical importance to both individual survival and generational
reproduction across many cultures; excludes groupings of people who function as a family, though they may lack
formal recognition as such
Family is to be the unit of SOCIAL REPRODUCTION (all that is necessary to meet the needs of adults and
children); maintains existing life; refers to feeding, clothing, and looking after people’s subsistence needs
Thus, family is a set of social relationships that work to reproduce life on a daily and a generational basis
In FORAGING SOCIETIES, people acquire subsistence by gathering edibles and hunting live game
Foragers live in fairly small groups, or bands, comprising people who are compatible and not necessarily related
by marriage or blood
Foragers are nomadic; their ability to move when necessary is critical to survival so they cannot accumulate
many possessions and must keep the ratio of dependants to productive foragers low
Subsistence needs are met by doing relatively little work, their inability to accumulate any surplus means that
survival depends on reciprocity and cooperation among the people living together
Hunting is an uncertain occupation, so sharing the product is a sort of personal insurance
A division of labour by gender and age organizes the acquisition of subsistence in foraging societies
Women typically gather and men hunt, but men gather when hunting is unsuccessful and women hunt in some
Children and older adults typically do not forage for food
The reciprocity that is the basis of foragers’ daily subsistence no doubt generally influences the organization of
their societies
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