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Chapter 10

SOC101Y1 - New Society - Sixth Edition - Chapter 10.docx

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Adam Green

SOCIOLOGY REVIEW CHAPTER 10: FAMILIES INTRODUCTION:  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 FAMILIES IN WESTERN SOCIETY TODAY:  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  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 MYTHS ABOUT FAMILY:  “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 THE MYTH OF THE NATURAL FAMILY:  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 20 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  There is a diversity of family patterns across history and cultures DEFINING FAMILY:  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  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 FORAGING SOCIETIES:  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 societies  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  Responsibilities are held collectively  The unit of social reproduction is the camp; all members of the camp decide together when and where to move, and they share food and responsibility for children  They are without authority figures so individuals are allowed considerable freedom  Women care for one another’s children; men also tend babies and children  Life seems to produce an absence of possessiveness toward children and spouses  There is a minimized sense of personal life as private  Quarrelling and violence between spouses are seen and treated as community problems; whatever disrupts the peace of the community is likely to be stopped  Members have autonomy  Every adult has access to what is necessary for subsistence, so no person is in a position of dependency on another person  Every person’s happiness matters  Relations between women and men are egalitarian; men have no more power or privilege than women do  Women can choose infanticide if a child is born before other children are past the need for constant attention or if a child is born who requires too much special care  Although monogamy is usually expected in marriage, women and men are able to enter into extramarital sexual relations as long as they do not interfere with the performance of their duties  The larger community assumes responsibilities that belong to nuclear families in our society PREINDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES:  Our family patterns developed out of the patterns that were typical of precapitalist agricultural societies  The household was the productive unit; producing subsistence was its main objective  The social relations of family life were relations of production  The chief economic relationship was that between husband and wife; wives did necessary work that was complementary to that of their husbands  Land, which was the key means of production, was privately owned in preindustrial Europe  Marriage was predicated on acquiring land or some other means of livelihood  Typically, one son waited to inherit the land, his brothers were apprenticed to learn a skilled trade, and his sisters were given dowries  Children’s dependence on their father to set them up for adulthood gave him considerable authority over them  Land scarcity, and the fact that landlords extracted a substantial portion of the year’s produce from the peasantry, meant that the struggle to survive was the chief household dynamic in these societies  Much of the nature of household and family life was governed by economic considerations  Interests were subordinated to those of the larger kin group and the land from which they derived subsistence  Labour requirements dictated household membership; various types of labourers were taken into households are they were needed (Example: wives who died were quickly replaced, children were kept home only if their labour was needed otherwise they were sent to wealthier households to be raised into neighbouring households that could use extra labour)  Few children were raised exclusively at home by their mothers; babies were often sent to wet nurses and when they returned home after several years, they were looked after by an older sibling, and were later sent off to be trained for adulthood in another household as teens  Marriages sentiment and emotional connection probably took a distant back seat to practical imperatives  Privacy was absent because the household was a place of work, which meant that business and family life were not distinguished  Rooms were not reserved for special purposes  Even sexuality was not entirely a private matter (Examples: the community’s intervention to regulate behaviour by punishing women suspected of adultery)  Interests of the collective takes precedence over individual autonomy  Truly patriarchal households  Many women were entirely subordinate to their husbands  The married couple was the chief labour force in every household; while men did the heavy farm work, women were typically in charge of the dairy, the poultry, and the garden as well as household management  Women’s and children’s interests were generally subordinated to the needs of the household far more than men’s  Short life spans tended to preclude the co-residence of three generations of family  The establishment of the next generation’s family was often delayed because the male property owners avoided turning the land over to their sons for as long as possible  Older men retired only after specifying in writing how they were to be provided by their heirs  The nuclear unit was embedded in a larger household in preindustrial Europe  Families were not sustained by sentimental or romantic feelings  Family and household relations were primarily relations of work THE ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY FAMILY PATTERNS IN WESTERN SOCIETIES:  Before the 19 century, family referred to all people who lived under the same roof related or not  Only when household economies eroded and an economy developed outside the household did our concept of family develop  The concept of family and many of its defining features are products of the separation of public and private spheres that accompanied industrialization THE MIDDLE CLASS:  Modern ideas about family developed largely out of changes brought about by the development of an industrial capitalist economy  A cult of domesticity developed in reaction to, and as a critique of, an unfolding economy that people experienced as cruel, immoral, and beyond human control  Involved an economy where impersonal forces of supply and demand were replacing face-to-face negotiations and customs  Domesticity as an ideology and practice was a way of coping with a rapidly changing social order  Home and business were separating as the scale of business increased  The middle class home became a retreat, where the concerns of evils of the world of business were banished  A new conception of gender emerged in the 19 century as an attempt to make sense of the new social order and people came to believed that men and women had fundamentally different natures: women in the domestic sphere, men in the competitive world of business  An ideology of gender difference made sense of the unfolding social order and in the middle class an evolving gendered division of labour developed with the physical separation of public and private spheres th  These domestic and gender ideologies were developed by the large middle class that emerged in the 19 century  The middle class struggled to assert its social identity and establish its right to political power by claiming a moral superiority over the aristocracy and the labouring masses  They used religious imager to shape a domestic ideology that juxtaposed the home and the economy; a symbol of their moral distance from the business world  The strategy involved educating children to equip them to adapt to the changing demands of the new economy  Women seem to have had a hand in fashioning the role of mother as socializer of her children as they responded to the withdrawal of productive work from the household and the demise of their role as husbands’ economic partners  Full-time motherhood entailed women’s economic dependence on men  The turn toward domesticity brought about a change in the emotional texture of family relations  When the need to produce subsistence was no longer the driving dynamic in daily household life, time and space became available for attending to emotional need  Children were the sentimental focus of middle class family life THE WORKING CLASS:  Although family life was becoming a sentimental focus for the middle class, it was nearly endangered for the working class  Men’s wages were so low in the 19 century that their children were often forced to work too  Women’s dependency on men resulted in strained relations between men and women, marital tensions that focused on money and violence  Some children had to be sent into orphanages  Individual needs were sacrificed to the imperatives of family survival  Teens in the labour force gave their parents most of their earnings and young adults postponed marriage until their parents could withstand the withdrawal of their earnings  Families doubled up to save on rent  Neighbours helped each other out in urban environments  The trade union movement responded to the straits of working class life with a campaign for a FAMILY WAGE (wage paid to a man sufficient to support a wife and children)  Defining the struggle in these terms had the effect of reinforcing a working class conception of family SOCIAL RELATIONS IN FAMILIES TODAY: MAIN FEATURES: th  Only in the 20 century did people begin to assume that romantic love, sex for the sake of pleasure, and marriage should be intimately bound together  In the 1950s, adults plunged into marriage and family as never before  Research indicated that men benefited more from marriage than women did: married men’s mental and physical health was better than that of single men, while married women fared worse than single women  Women are still more likely to be seriously hurt by husbands, lov
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