1 - The Sociological Sense

This is the second in a series of notes to fifteen lectures for my class Interdisciplinary Study of the Family.
Required Reading:

  1. 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.

  2. 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:
    1. from Bumpass we get, in no particular order, questions about:
      1. divorce (and marital "disruption") leading to generalizations about individuation
      2. parenthood (as measured by fertility rates) leading to generalizations about industrialisim
      3. impact on children's education of women's employment tied to a concern with emotional development
      4. cohabitation ((sometimes) leading to marriage)
      5. marital satisfaction (emotional stability)
      This ends with two related broad generalizations (p. 493) and one paradoxical question (p. 491):
      1. "the family is ever shrinking"
      2. "this is a universal trend"
      3. "why does anyone bother to form families with children?"

    2. 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.

    3. 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 50 years"?)

      Specifically, Parsons proposes:

      1. 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)
      2. that this is revealed in the detail of this organization
      3. that institutions have impacts on personality structure
      4. that negative impacts are dangerous not only for the individuals concerned but also for the society at large
      5. 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.

  3. some historical context:
    1. Murdock (Malinowski) on the functionality of the family and thus its universality. Biological necessity across cultural variation;
    2. "structural-functionalism." Socio-cultural necessity emphasizing differences as well as synchronic persistence; different social systems might have different family systems.

  4. how this applies to modern industrial (capitalistic) societies
    1. accepting the political definitions and the political questions

  5. The major issues with this kind of approach:
September 21, 1999