Testing the theory of Transition

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  • Created by: Lily
  • Created on: 01-05-13 16:31

The Theory of Transition

This theory is put forward by the likes of Talcott Parsons, William Goode and Ronald Fletcher.

For many years sociologists accepted the theory that pre-industrial societies were characterised by large extended families that supported themselves as units of production.

Often called the "March Of Progress", it was argued that this transition was taking place allover the world.

Functionalists see the nuclear family as ideal for modern industrial society as it is small and therefore geographically mobile. Functions have been eradicated by specialist institutions (e.g schools for education) therefore we are less dependent on kin. The family is also socially mobile as status is achieved therefore individuals cab move away from traditional family jobs/class.

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Were all families extended in the past?


  • Parish records from 1564-1821
  • No evidence for the dominance of extended families
  • Only 10% included kin other than nuclear family - Rare!!!
  • Average household - 4.75 (close to todays norm)
  • Unlikely to live with grandparents due to low life expectancy
  • Nuclear family AIDED Industrialisation
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Did Industrialisation lead to a decline in extende

MICHEAL ANDERSON -                                                                           migration & poverty = extended families. The family became a "mutual aid organisation" and they were dependent on their support & solidarity.

YOUNG & WILMOTT -                                                                            extended families are still very important as they provide mutual aid and support. However, extended families are usually defined by living in close proximity and keeping constant contact rather than living together.

TAMARA HARAVEN -                                                                                    suit industrial society. A network of kin provides a greater workplace stability & continuity. A large family is less dependent on one wage so less likely to strike.

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Has the extended family now disappeared?

FIONA DEVINE - (Luton carworkers) - "isolated nuclear families" but had strong connections with kin, keeping in touch via technology e.g cars/telephones.

JANET FINCH - Family ties still exist and are strong but they vary according to ethnicity/gender. E.g women are more expected to maintain ties. 1993 - 50% cared for a sick relative, 90% given/received financial help.

ARENSBERG & KIMBALL - (Irish farming families) - still built on patriarchy & an ascribed status. The family extended vertically and horizontally and the unit of production was passed down.

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Did Industrialisation lead to the "symmetrical fam


STAGE 1: the pre-industrial family (unit of production, working in agriculture as a team)

STAGE 2: the early industrial family ('wage earners', extended family was a support unit through the mother-daughter tie, segregated conjugal roles)

STAGE 3: the symmetrical family (nuclear family, without extended kin, husband & wife dependent on eachother, joint conjugal roles, home-centred)

STAGE 4: the asymmetrical family (predicted for the future, work a central interest, segregated roles)

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Criticisms of the symmetrical family

  • Fails to show how the extended family CAN be important
  • Feminists - do couples really have joint roles?? Little evidence!
  • What about the negatives in family life?
  • Men may be more home-centred but women are probably less so
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Postmodern Family

  • New historical period - CHOICES & POSSIBILITIES
  • No particular family type is "normal" or "better"!
  • We are FREE to choose lifestyles
  • Family Diversity!
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