Compare and contrast the stragegies used by African American familes and Latino families to satisfy their needs. What are the most important strengths and weaknesses of these strategies? Include such concepts as augmented families, collectivist family relationships, mutual aid, gender roles and the considerable diversity of family forms within both of these groups.
Due Sunday at 11p Eastern Time
Family Functions and
Dysfunctions SOC 2634 Week 1 Lecture
Family and Society
• Cultural universal
• Major institution
• Adapts to surroundings and circumstances
The family is a major cultural institution. It is probably the first human institution.
It is essential to the survival of the group and the society. In the earliest
human societies cooperation was essential for successful procreation and survival.
• Symbolic Interaction
Sociologists tend to look at the family and other cultural institutions from one of the
three major sociological perspectives:
•The structural-functional perspective looks at the functions of each major
institution. These institutions include the family, religion, education, the economy
and work, and politics. (Politics is defined by sociologists as “the exercise of power
in a social situation. In the case of the family they focus on the ways in which the
family contributes to the stability and functioning of the society as a whole.
•The conflict perspective focuses on the way in which the family creates and
sustains inequality in societies.
•The symbolic interaction perspective views society on the micro level (face-to-face
interaction) of the society. They are looking at the meanings and patterns of
interaction that emerge within the family. The form that a family takes and the
challenges they face have a large impact on the way in which the members of the
family interact and the expectations they have about what a family should be.
Structural-functionalism and the family
• Social placement
• Regulation of sexual activity
• Meeting material and emotional needs
The structural-functional perspective looks at the universality of the family as evidence of its necessity for and contributions to the stability and productivity of the society as a whole. The functions that they consider to be the most important are:
•Socialization: human beings are born dependent and remain dependent on others for a number of years. (Think, for example, of all the discussion about when children are “old enough” to engage in various activities and when it is that we are really “adults.” The answer varies across time and cultures, of course, but these kinds of questions/considerations are always part of the process of socialization. Human beings evolved to the point where we do not rely upon or even really have instincts. For sociologists, socialization is what has replaced instincts and is the “process of becoming human.” In terms of the family, for example, we often hear about a “mothering instinct” in women. However, instinctual behavior is universal and there are many instances of mothers who are judged to be “unfit” and, when you can find such exceptions, you know you are not dealing with an instinct. Little girls are socialized from early in their lives to “cook” and to “take care” of dolls, etc. Our society emphasizes “motherhood and apple pie” as “all American.”
•Social placement: because children are dependent and because of the importance of descent and children as the future, it is critical in all societies for children to be a member of a family and for the “caregivers” to be clearly identified.
•Regulation of sexual activity: in the earliest types of societies, it was important for a family to form alliances with other families. Some sort of “incest taboo” is one of the mechanisms which restrict sexual activity between certain kin. In this society we consider members of our immediate family to be inappropriate sexual partners. This would include siblings, parents, grandparents, great- grandparents etc. First cousins are also on this list.
•Meeting material and emotional needs: children must be “taken care of.” This nurturing includes the basic food and shelter but also must address emotional needs. Parents are expected to “bond with” and satisfy the emotional needs of their children.
Conflict Perspective and the Family
• Perpetuation of inequality
• Cultural and social capital
• Economic conditions
The conflict perspective is all about who has power and how it is used. One interesting focus is on the powerlessness of children in the family. Their dependency makes them very vulnerable to manipulation and control. Women, too, are sometimes viewed as particularly vulnerable because of their relative inequality within societies and within the family itself. The same is true for the elderly who become increasingly vulnerable because of declines in their physical, mental, and economic conditio. Contemporary social problems include domestic violence in the form of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of family members.
•Families perpetuate inequality because they reflect the inequality within a society as a whole. For example, this is an increasingly individualistic and competitive society and the socialization of children reflects this. We hear a lot about “sibling rivalry” and we also know that this individualistic approach to life contributes to the high divorce rate in this society. In the past, couples often stayed married out of a sense of “duty.” This is much less likely to be the case today. People “grow apart” and they have different ideas about what is most important. There is a tendency to focus on one’s own needs at the expense of family stability.
•Patriarchy, or the control of the society by males, is the most common pattern. It is reflected in the family as well. In earlier centuries, fathers were the “head of the household” and they even had control over the “life and death” of family members. We still live in a patriarchal society but women have more say when they make an economic contribution to the family. Housework and childcare are largely invisible since Industrialization took men off the farm and into the factory (work world). Prior to that, all members of the family contributed to the work on the farm.
•Cultural and social capital vary according to the economic standing of the family. Children are at an advantage if they are born into wealthier families where the parents tend to have more cultural capital such as larger vocabularies and more education. Social capital refers to the kinds of skills that the parents have. In addition not only benefit from the knowledge and skills of their parents but also from the fact that these parents can send them to better schools and connect them with people who may increase their opportunities and chances of success.
•Finally, the conflict perspective points out that the family must adapt and change in the face of changing economic conditions. The extended family form declined once people had to move to cities to find work. Families became smaller as geographical and economic mobility increased. Richard Sennett wrote a book called The Hidden Injuries of Class which looks at the “American Dream” which involves the expectation that our children will be “better off” than we are. However, when this successful upward mobility does happen, the children often come to have different norms and values than the parents. The “injury” that results is to the parents who may be proud of their children but no longer feel close to them They feel “inferior” to their own children.
• Face-to-face interaction
• Emotional bonds
• Micro level
The symbolic interaction perspective looks at how people interact and what the results are. These sociologists are concerned with”
•Face-to-face interaction rather than institutions. They do not look at “the American family” but rather patterns of interaction within individual families. Current concerns include such things as how and why children become delinquent, the impact of birth order on a child, the role of internet interactions on dating, marriage, and divorce, the experiences of stepchildren in “blended” families, the kinds of situations which increase the likelihood of domestic violence, etc. For example, the article for Week 2 on grandparents in Ghana looks at particular examples of what grandparents mean in that society.
•This perspective looks at the emergence of this meaning and at the type of consensus which emerge through interaction. In general, people want interactions to go smoothly and we all try to come to some sort of consensus or agreement about what is happening, what should happen, and what is likely to happen next.
•Children become emotionally dependent upon their parents because they must rely on them in order to survive. Spouses also bond. A good marriage includes emotional support and general agreement about goals and priorities. This happens over time as a result of continuing face-to-face interaction.
•Again, this is a micro level perspective that does not look the functioning of institutions such as the family, religion, education and the economy but focuses on the way in which our culture, our norms and values, are expressed and shaped by direct interation.
Week 2—Part I Basic Elements, Change and Diversity in the Family
Families vary dramatically across cultures, subcultures, and historical periods.
Earlier societies changed much more slowly and were much more homogeneous.
Once industrialization began, technology changed many things including the
structure of families. The United States is currently the most culturally diverse
industrial society and Japan is the least diverse. There is much less consensus about
family form and functioning in this society than there was in earlier centuries and
than there is in Japan and other more homogeneous societies.
Conceptual definitions of the family
As a cultural universal, families have important elements that are found in all
families. These include:
•The family as an institution, all families are cooperative and function in order to
oversee the bearing and raising of children
•The idea of kinship, all societies and all families have definitions of kinship.
Kinship is based on blood (and, today, genes), marriage, adoption. In preindustrial
societies, blood was critically important. I remember being is a museum in
Germany where they had a “chastity belt.” This was a metal device that a woman
was forced to wear while her husband was away—trading or at war usually. This
was seen as a solution to the possibility that the woman could become pregnant by
another man. Once that kind of practice was abandoned, thank goodness, paternity
was never certain. Now we have “paternity” tests that can answer this age-old
question for anyone. This is an excellent example of how technology can change
the family. We can also point to birth control as a technology that has changed the
family. How has birth control changed families?
•Or, how do people decide who is a legitimate member of their family?
Cultural Diversity and Family Variation
Variation in family patterns:
• Family types: – Nuclear
– Modern nuclear • One or two parents and their children
– Blended nuclear or extended
– Families of affinity
The early hunting and gathering families were generally nuclear. Most of these societies were at
least somewhat nomadic because they had to go to where the plants and animals were and this varied
by the season. As people settled down and began to grow crops and/or herd animals the family
became more stable and grew to become the extended family. This pattern is still found in
agricultural environments. The extended family includes parents and children and other kin. This
could be grandparents, and the brothers and sisters of the parents and grandparents, etc. In Thailand,
for example, first cousins are also called “brothers” and “sisters.” This shows the importance of the
extended family to that society. With Industrialization the family tended to become nuclear again
and has tended to become single parent families. Families are more likely to have two parents when
there is an economic advantage. If only one parent works and the other does not contribute to the
economic survival of the family, marriages are less likely to occur or to persist. Also, the partner
that does not contribute economically is not seen as or may not see themselves as a “valuable”
member of the family. Blended families are much more common is this society now. That is the
remarriage of at least one of the parents and their children to another spouse. Sometimes both
partners have children. This practice produces “stepparents” and “stepchildren.” Blended families
always have to cope with differing ideas and practices from their previous households. For example,
we often hear discussions about the appropriate role for a stepparent to play in relation to their
stepchildren. In general, the idea is not to try to replace or alienate the children from the absent
•Families of affinity are groups of people that do not have blood ties or legal standing but who
construct relationships through interaction. They choose to see themselves as belonging together and
as “family.” I have an “Aunt Jean” who is really my mother’s best friend. I also have some best
friends that a like family to me. In one case, the daughter calls me her “other mother.” This is
probably more likely for me since I am an only child married to another only child and we do not
Family variation (continued)
• Patriarchy vs. matriarchy
• Endogamy vs. exogamy
• Monogamy vs. polygamy
Families also vary in a number of additional ways:
•The most important dimension is probably the variation in power relationships. The vast majority of cultural family forms are patriarchal. Most societies are patriarchal and the family forms reflect that. In fact, statistics show that the family form that is most likely to fall into poverty is the single-female-head-of-household type.
•Endogamy is marriage between people from the same social category. This can include dimensions such as caste, estate or social class, race, ethnicity, locality, etc. In modern societies endogamy is becoming less common because people move around more (geographic mobility) and they often experience mobility in the workplace. This workplace mobility can be up or down (vertical) or changing jobs at the same level (horizontal).
•Polygamy is a type of marriage that incorporates at least three adults. Most preindustrial societies have some sort of polygamy. The most common type is polygyny which is a marriage in which the male has more than one wife. Polyandry is the type of family in which the female has mode than one husband. Both types have declined in modern times. This is in part a result of the fact that, in industrialized societies, it is more difficult for one person to support more than one spouse, a fact that is also reflected in the higher divorce rates. It is also true that people are more individualistic and are exposed to a variety of cultural practices from around the world. This trend means that monogamy, a form with only two partners, has become much more common.
Family variation (continued)
• Residential variation – Patrilocality
• Descent – Patrilineal
Families also vary in terms of where the family will reside and how kinship is defined across generations.
•Residential variation includes three basic patterns:
•Patrilocality means that the married couple will reside with or near the husband’s family. This was true in Ireland in earlier centuries. However, the emigration of so many Irish to this country was due not only to famine but to the fact that farms could only be divided a few times to accommodate the needs of all the male children. When this became true, many younger male children emigrated from Ireland.
•Neolocality is a cultural norm in which the married couple lives apart from both sets of parents. This is what happened for many immigrants to this society. It is also true when economic conditions make it more difficult for native children to make a living near their parents. As a result, this is more common in industrial societies. I was born in Southern California but came to Boston for graduate school (at Northeastern). This is a typical choice today, one that is driven by economic considerations.
•Matrilocality, of course, is a pattern in which the married couple lives with or near the wife’s family. You can find a family form which is patriarchal and matrilocal. The rarest form would be a matriarchal and patrilocal family pattern.
•In some traditional societies there is the expectation that the new couple will live with either the husband’s or the wife’s family, thus preserving the extended family while allowing economic considerations to enter into the decision.
•Descent, or decisions about how to trace kinship also vary. Each of these patterns determines such things as responsibility for others and inheritance.
•Patrilineal families trace descent through males.
•Matrilineal families trace descent through females.
•Bilateral families trace descent through both females and males.
•Modern industrial societies tend to trace descent through both males and females.
•Since early human times, families have been changing because they must change
and adapt in order to survive. There were even many types of hunting and and adapt in order to survive. There were even many types of hunting and
gathering societies. In general, in those types of societies, the women gathered
edible plant materials and the men hunted. The women usually supplied a majority
of the calories consumed by the group. However, the Inuits who lived in a harsh,
cold, environment relied primary on hunting for their food, especially during the
winter months. They hunt seals. This meant that women played a much less
important role. For example, their job was to chew their husbands shoes to keep
them soft when they came back from the hunt.
•As societies became agricultural and the extended family became the norm, the
issues of where people should and how descent should be defined tended to be
patrilocal and patrilineal. However, there is at least once example of a societey in
which it was the mother’s brother that was responsible for the care of her children.
In this case, the model was patriarchal but matrilineal and matrilocal. The mother
stayed with her family of origin and her brother helped to raise the children, played
the role of male parent and the father was living with his own family and taking care
of his sister’s children.
•These are variations that occurred prior to industrialization. At that time societies
were very homogenous and members shared the same norms and values including
After Industrialization, social change accelerated and the types of pressures on families changed. In the United States, the most diverse industrialized nation, there families changed. In the United States, the most diverse industrialized nation, there is tremendous variation in family form based on social class, race, ethnicity, and gender. Rapid social change forced change on families. They had to develop new strategies for economic survival. Jobs were multiplying and changing and it became increasingly important to live in a city in order to find employment. Eventually industrial society was placed by postindustrial society and the service sector began to dominate the economy. Service jobs tend to be “good jobs” or “bad jobs” and people get stuck at one level of employment. Social classes became much more separate with different life chances and different lifestyles.
•Social Class: modern American society is now one in which there is an increasing gap between the rich and the poor. This gap was very large during the Golden Age in this society and the last two decades or so have sometimes been called the “new golden age.” Some say that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is disappearing. Whatever the case, middle class and poorer families are having to face many challenges. For the middle class, home ownership, the cost of education for children, health care costs etc. have becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish and/or afford. The poor have been facing increasing challenges. The dominance of the service economy has made it increasingly difficult to find employment without a good education. Now, with the economic downturn even the middle class is losing ground.
•Race and racism have had a dramatic impact on families. The reading provides some interesting comparisons between African American families. Since slavery it has been more difficult for African American men to find employment. Women could find work as domestic workers etc. As more African Americans moved to cities, industrial jobs became less available and have virtually disappeared from the “inner city.” As employment opportunities declined, the divorce rate increased and many people did not form families at all.
•Ethnicity or culture plays and important role in the shape that families take. Different ethnic groups have different norms and values including beliefs about the role of other kin, the age groups have different norms and values including beliefs about the role of other kin, the age of marriage, parenting responsibilities, parenting styles, etc.
•The big changes that have taken place in terms of gender mostly involve who works outside the home, the number of hours worked outside the home, the time spent with children, etc. Since the 1950’s women have become more and more likely to work outside the home and to work for longer hours. This change is largely a reflection of the increasing difficulty of supporting a family on one income. The poor have always struggled with this, and even during early Industrialization, immigrant families usually relied on wages from both parents and even children. In Boston, for example, poor women worked as domestics or ran boarding houses and had small stores. Now most middle class families have two working parents or are single parent families. Women now work a “second shift” of housework and we hear about “latchkey children.”
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