family diversity

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  • Created on: 21-04-20 19:06

family diversity

The idea of family diversity suggests that in any one era, no particular type of family is dominant or can be considered the norm.

-Michael Anderson (1980) argued that there has always been diversity in family types, but most sociologists of the family before the 1980s assumed that family diversity was not the norm.

Recently some sociologists have continued to argue that a single family type is dominant. 

-Peter Willmott (1988) claims that the dispersed extended family is the norm 

-Julia Brannen (2003) believes that the beanpole family is now typical in Britain.

Changing family patterns are bringing about increased family diversity in the UK today.  

More couples cohabit and many more children are born outside marriage than previously and many more marriages end in divorce.

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the debate (F & NR)

Sociologists disagree about family diversity and whether it exists and if it does is it good or bad for society.

Functionalism and the New Right debate

Functionalism is a modernist sociologist perspective – sees the conventional nuclear family as uniquely suited to the needs of modern industrial society and of family members.

The New Right is more a political than a sociological perspective. It takes a conservative view of the family and opposes diversity. It sees the conventional nuclear family as the only normal or ‘natural’ one.

Other family types are seen as unnatural and producing social problems

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the debate (F & NR)

- Chester (the neo-conventional family)

Chester (1985) argues that although there is some increased diversity, the nuclear family remains dominant. The only important change has been from the conventional family, with a male breadwinner, to the neo-conventional family, where both spouses work

- Rapoports (the five types of family diversity)

Rapoport and Rapoport (1982) disagree with Chester. They see diversity as central to the family today.

  • Organisational – e.g. joint or segregated conjugal roles. 
  • Cultural – e.g. ethnic groups have different family structures. 
  • Class – e.g. differences in child-rearing practices. 
  • Life cycle differences – e.g. pensioner couples, parents with young children.  
  • Generational differences – e.g. in attitudes to cohabitation.
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the debate (F & NR)

- Cereal packet family 

The idea that a single family type is dominant is also found in the media.

Ann Oakley (1982) marketing and advertising often tries to sell products to what it sees as a typical family.

Leach (1967) calls this the cereal packet image of the family.

The portrayal of the cereal packet image of the family has been attacked by the American feminist Barrie Thorne (1992). Thorne believes that gender, generation, race and class result in widely varying experiences of family life, many of which diverge from the nuclear family with the male breadwinner and female housewife.

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the debate (PM)

postmodernism debate

Postmodernists take a different view than structuralists such as Marxists or Functionalists. They argue that these theories ignore two facts:

  • We make choices about our relationships and family life
  • We now have much greater choice about our personal relationships

In postmodern society, there is a high level of family diversity. Postmodernists see this as resulting from greater individualism and choice.

- Giddens and Beck …claim that individual self-interest now governs our actions. 

In the past, people’s lives were defined by traditional gender and family structures, with fixed roles that prevented them choosing their own life course.

Today, the patriarchal family has been undermined by individualism. We have become ‘disembedded’ from traditional family structures, leaving us free to choose how we lead our lives. Giddens (1992) argues that one reason for this is greater gender equality.

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the debate (PM)

-Giddens – pure relationship

Rather than a relationship defined by law or tradition, or as for producing children, it exists solely to satisfy each partner’s needs. This means it lasts only if it continues to meet their needs.

-Beck – the negotiated family

Beck argues that equality and individualism have created the negotiated family, which is not fixed but varies according to its members’ wishes.

-Beck – zombie family

Relationships are subject to risk and uncertainty. Beck describes this as the zombie family – it appears alive but, it is dead.

The family cannot provide security in an insecure world because of its own instability.

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the debate (PLP)

personal life perspective

Smart (2007) proposes the connectedness thesis as an alternative to the individualisation thesis:

Traditional patriarchal norms and structural inequalities still limit people’s choices about relationships, identities and families. We make decisions about relationships within a social context or ‘web of connectedness’. This challenges the pure relationship.

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family diversity (2)

Class and gender

-These structures limit our choices

-After a divorce gender norm dictate that women should have custody of children, which may limit opportunities to form new relationships. Men are freer to start new relationships and second families

-Men generally better paid so gives them more freedom to start new relationships

-The relative powerlessness of women and children compared to men means they lack freedom to choose and so remain in trapped abusive relationships

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