Parsons, Talcott "The American
family: Its relations to personality and to the social structure.";
In Family, socialization and interaction process. Glencoe: The
Free Press, 1955
Bumpass, Larry "What's happening to the family?
Interactions between demographic
and institutional change." Demography
I start with sociology because the sociology of the family has remained
closely tied to the political concerns of contemporary states. In other words,
sociologists (or demographers like Bumpass) have mostly started with questions
asked of them by various constituencies (intellectuals, politicians, etc.). Starting
here thus allow us to confront directly what may be brought to this course.
What is interesting first is the perennity of a set of concerns that
continue to inform what are considered the fundamental questions to ask and the nature
of the data that can be used to answer these questions:
from Bumpass we get, in no particular order, questions about:
divorce (and marital "disruption") leading to generalizations about
parenthood (as measured by fertility rates) leading to generalizations
impact on children's education of women's employment tied to a
concern with emotional development
cohabitation ((sometimes) leading to marriage)
marital satisfaction (emotional stability)
This ends with two related broad generalizations (p. 493)
and one paradoxical question (p. 491):
"the family is ever shrinking"
"this is a universal trend"
"why does anyone bother to form families with children?"
Bumpass clearly has a point of view ("things are not so bad as
some people say and, anyway, this is the direction we have chosen")
but not clear theoretical argument: are these patterns simply happening?
are they somehow related to major social structural movements.
Parsons, by contrast, write directly from a theoretical point of view.
Note first that he starts at the same places as Bumpass. He adds
a concern with the division of labor within the couple (what might now be called
gender roles). But his fundamental research trajectory is the same
that Bumpass asssumes 35 years later. It is in this sense that I
would say that Parsons set the tone for a particular discourse about
the family that is still fully contemporary ("no change in concerns over
Specifically, Parsons proposes:
that the organization of institutions is tightly linked to the dominant
modes of production (note of course that Parsons is very much not a
Marxist! and would never use this phrase)
that this is revealed in the detail of this organization
that institutions have impacts on personality structure
that negative impacts are dangerous not only for the individuals
concerned but also for the society at large
the State has a major concern in what might strengthen or weaken an
institution that is central, though in a limited fashion, to the
well-being of its citizenry.
some historical context:
Murdock (Malinowski) on
the functionality of the family and thus its universality. Biological
necessity across cultural variation;
"structural-functionalism." Socio-cultural necessity emphasizing differences
as well as synchronic persistence; different social systems might have
different family systems.
how this applies to modern industrial (capitalistic) societies
accepting the political definitions and the political questions