3- The Historical Sense
This is the fourth in a series of notes to fifteen
lectures for my class TF5005:
Interdisciplinary Study of the Family.
Implicit in Parson's paper is an evolutionary model that is explicit in many
of his writings and in the writings of the dominant sociologists of his time
(and often continuing to this day): the current situation (almost functionless
nuclear families) is the product of a long history, and particularly of the
At the time the model, as applied to family life, was essentially hypothetical, based
on a generalization of what appeared the case in other areas of social life,
particularly individualism, rationalization, economic development, etc. (Max Weber).
It is certainly the case that, until rather recently, the social sciences that
starting in the 19th century, particularly sociology and then anthropology, had a
somewhat schizophrenic relationship to history:
theoretically, they were strongly interested in social evolution, and
they operated in terms of major hypotheses about social change. This
was particularly true of studies of family and kinship since it made
complete sense to all early theorists that the human species would
have started with different kinship arrangements than it eventually
evolved as other things changed.
methodologically, they focused on narrower and narrower sections of
time. This made sense, particularly to anthropologists as they criticized
earlier generations for a kind of "armchair anthropology" that theorize
on the basis of very limited information about the lives of the people.
At the same time classical history mostly ignored the kinds of questions about
social structure, or the relationship of institutions to each other, that
concerned the other social sciences and refused directly to use the kind
of data sociologists and anthropologists found most congenial
All this started to change in the late 50s and 60s as the social sciences,
anthropology, and history converged and started borrowing each others methods,
concerns and analytic modes.
in sociology, the same analytic movement that had sent anthropologists to the
sent some sociologists to search for the historical genesis of what they were
sure was a fundamental process of modernization and industrialization. This
was hypothesized to have very distinct consequences, and thus operated
in terms of a model of "before" that needed to be checked.
in anthropology, historical data that had initially been hard to
gather was found to be available. At the same time, theoretical interest
in process and change came to center stage. In the past 20 years the
interest in history has come to dominate much work in the discipline.
Hareven is one of those who have contributed most to the convergence of anthropology,
and anthropology in the study of the Western family. Given the locale of her
work in England and the United States, her concerns may appear most
directly related to sociological interests, but the convergence of
anthropology and sociology means that her work is central to all
try to understand the conditions of everyday life in families.
Furthermore, she uses extensively notions directly developed by
critique of grand theorizing in the absence of specific data
(against Aries, Shorter, etc.)
acknowledgements of the relevance of anthropological concepts like
kin group, life-course and the development cycle of domestic groups
some specific issues
Our concerns: recapturing theory given all the observations. In
some ways Hareven leaves history where the early cultural anthropologists left
anthropology: with a long catalogue of miscellaneous fact suggesting a great
multiplicity but no clear framework to analyze this diversity. The matter
is made relative more complex for history than it is in anthropology since most
of the observed differentiation occurs within the same cultural area,
among groups directly linked with each other or emerging from each other.
age at marriage
fluctuation in the nuclear household structure (p. 101)
[see Berreman on polyandry]
differences in the context of apparently similarly
movements of people in and out of household and
the scheduling of life cycle transitions (p. 106)
kin ties outside the household and division of
labor within extended kins.
note the impact that would have on
household organization: multiple
organization, one structure?
the relationship of family organization to
the organization of productive labor, including
strategies for dealing with conditions: early
approaches to "agency" (p. 116, quote from W.I.
September 27, 1999