European societies during the nineteenth century underwent massive changes. The old social order anchored in kinship, the village, the community, religion, and old regimes was attacked and fell to the twin forces of industrialism and revolutionary democracy. The sweeping changes had particular effect on the family. There was a dramatic increase in such conditions as poverty, child labor, desertions, prostitution, illegitimacy, and the abuse of women and children. These conditions were particularly evident in the newly emerging industrial cities. The vivid writings of a novelist such as Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist and Hard Times provide startling portraits of a harsh new way of life.
The industrial revolution dramatically changed the nature of economic and social life. The factory system developed, and, with its development, there was a transformation from home industries in rural areas to factories in towns and cities of Europe and America. Rural people were lured by the novelty of city life and the prospects of greater economic opportunity. The domestic economy of the pre-industrial family disappeared. The rural and village based family system no longer served as a productive unit. The domestic economy had enabled the family to combine economic activities with the super vision and training of its children; the development of the factory system led to a major change in the division of labor in family roles.
Patriarchal authority was weakened with urbanization. Previously, in rural and village families, fathers reigned supreme; they were knowledgeable in economic skills and were able to train their children. The great diversity of city life rendered this socialization function relatively useless. The rapid change in industrial technology and the innumerable forms of work necessitated a more formal institutional setting – the school – to help raise the children. Partially, in response to the changing family situation, the British passed legislation to aid children. Separated from parental supervision, working children were highly exploited. Laws came into existence to regulate the amount of time children were allowed to work and their working conditions. The law also required that children attend school. These legal changes reflected the change in the family situation in the urban setting; families were no longer available or able to watch constantly over their children.
The separation of work from the home had important implications for family members. Increasingly, the man became the sole provider for the family and the women and children developed a life comprised solely of concerns centered on the family, the home, and the school. Their contacts with the outside world diminished and they were removed from community involvements. The family’s withdrawal from the community was tinged by its hostile attitude toward the surrounding city. The city was depicted as a sprawling and planless development bereft of meaningful community and neighborhood relationships. The tremendous movement of a large population into the industrial centers provided little opportunity for the family to form deep or lasting ties with neighbors. Instead, the family viewed neighbors with suspicion and weariness. Exaggerated beliefs developed on the prevalence of urban poverty, crime, and disorganization.
This entry deals with the different approaches taken by social scientists in their analysis of the family in the wake of the industrial revolution. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries they voiced concern about the excesses of industrial urban society and the calamitous changes in the family system. Social Darwinists and Marxists tried to make sense of these changes through utilization of evolutionary theories. Radicals, conservatives, and social reformers called for fundamental changes in the society and in the family and its new way of life. However, by the mid twentieth century, the dominant perspective in sociology, structural functionalism, pro claimed that the family was alive, well, and functioning in modern industrial society.
Sociological interest in the study of the history of the family was very strong in the mid-nineteenth century in Western Europe. Prior to the nineteenth century, western thought generally held to a biblical belief in the origins of the family stemming from God’s creation of the world, including Adam and Eve. Although there was recognition of relatively minor familial changes over time, the biblical family form and its underlying patriarchal ideological precepts were seen as continuing intact into the nineteenth century. Western thought clung to uniformity throughout the world in terms of family structures, processes, and underlying familial beliefs and values. These governed the behavior of men, women, and children in families. The belief in universal family uniformity led to ramifications on the nature and place of the human species and affected the traditional institutions of the church, the state, and the family. Coinciding with the doctrine of evolutionism was the development of individualism and democracy.
There are a number of important factors to help account for the historical study of the family. First, the fabric of Western European and American society was undergoing major changes. Societies were rapidly industrializing and urbanizing. The old social class systems were being reworked and a new class structure was developing. Family relationships were also undergoing radical changes. The individual’s rights, duties, and obligations to the family and, in turn, to the larger community were being questioned and challenged. Second, western colonial expansionism and imperialism were developed fully. Unknown and hitherto unsuspected cultural systems with strange and diverse ways of life were discovered and analyzed. Family systems were found to have differences almost beyond imagination. Third, an intellectual revolution was occurring. The controversy surrounding evolutionary theory was sweeping Western Europe and America. Developing out of this social and intellectual ferment was the application of evolutionary thought to the analysis and understanding of the social origins of the human species. This discussion is concerned with the resultant theories of social change and their applicability to the study of the history of the family and to family change.
The theory of evolutionary change developed by Charles Darwin in his Origin of the Species in 1859 was the culmination of an intellectual revolution begun much earlier that promoted the idea of progressive development. Progressive development believed that the human species evolved from stages of savagery to civilization. As the theory of evolution became the dominant form in explaining biological principles, social scientists of the nineteenth century developed the belief that there was a link between biological and cultural evolution. The basic argument was that since biological evolution proceeded by a series of stages (from the simple to the complex), the same process would hold for cultures. Thus, the Social Darwinists shared in the basic assumption of unilinear evolution (the idea that all civilizations pass through the same stages of development in the same order). They then sought to apply the ideas of progressive development to social forms and institutions – a primary concern being the development of explanatory schema on the evolution of marriage and family systems.
Social Darwinism was associated with, among others, Herbert Spencer (The Principles of Sociology, 1897), J. J. Bachofen (Das Mutterecht [The Mother Right], 1861/1948), Henry Sumner Maine (Ancient Law, 1861/1960), and Lewis Henry Morgan (Ancient Society, 1877/ 1963). Social Darwinists seemingly dealt with such non immediate concerns as the origins and historical development of the family, yet their theories had social and political implications. Social Darwinism provided ‘‘scientific’’ legitimation for western colonization and exploitation of ‘‘primitive’’ peoples through the erroneous belief that western culture represented ‘‘civilization’’ and non-western cultures (particularly among non-literate, low technology societies) represented a primeval state of savagery or barbarity. And through its advocacy of evolutionary progress, Social Darwinism provided laissez faire guidelines that supported neglect of the poorer classes of American and Western European societies.
The Social Darwinists differed concerning specific lines of development. Some argued that there was a historical stage of matriarchy in which women ruled the society, whereas most others argued that a matriarchal stage of social evolution never existed. This controversy had implications for the roles of men and women in nineteenth century family systems. The prevalent view was for a patriarchal evolutionary theory of male supremacy and dominance over females. Thus, Social Darwinists gave implicit support to the Victorian notions of male supremacy and female dependency.
In summary, the evolutionary theory of the Social Darwinists ostensibly dealt with such non immediate concerns as the origins and historical development of the family, but under lying their theorizing were implications for the roles of men and women in contemporary nineteenth century family systems. Indeed, their twentieth century evolutionary theory counter parts continued to put forth these same arguments over a century later. The initiative for this rebirth of interest in the evolutionary reconstruction of family forms has been the development of arguments and counter arguments stemming from the concern of the women’s movement with the origins of patriarchy and male sexual dominance.
An important rebuttal to Social Darwinism that in part developed out of evolutionary theory was made by the nineteenth century founders of communist thought, Marx and Engels. They made gender role relationships a central and dominating concern of evolutionary theory. Engels (1972) used it to address his primary concern: the social condition of the poor and working classes and the exploitation of men, women, and children. Concern for gender role egalitarianism, as opposed to patriarchy and male sexual dominance, achieved their fullest evolutionary theory expression in this work. Engles’s evolutionary theory saw economic factors as the primary determinants of social change and linked particular technological forms with particular family forms. Echoing Lewis Henry Morgan, Engels depicted a stage of savagery as one with no economic inequalities and no private ownership of property. The family form was group marriage based on matriarchy. During the stage of barbarism, men gained economic control over the means of production. In civilization, the last stage, women became subjugated to the male dominated economic system and monogamy. This stage, in Engels’s view, rather than representing the apex of marital and familial forms, represented the victory of private property over common ownership and group marriage. Engels speculated that the coming of socialist revolution would usher in a new evolutionary stage marked by gender equality and by common ownership of property. Engels’s main achievement was in defining the family as an economic unit. This has become a major focus in much of the subsequent historical research on the family and is of great theoretical importance in the sociology of the family. But, insofar as Engels’s Marxist view constituted a branch of evolutionary thought, it was subject to many of the same objections raised against other evolutionary theories.
By the end of the nineteenth century the popularity of Social Darwinism was rapidly declining. Contributing to this decline were the methodological weaknesses of the approach (data obtained by untrained, impressionistic, and biased travelers and missionaries) and a growing rejection of both its explicit value assumptions on the superiority of western family forms and its belief in unilinear evolutionary development of the family. This belief was replaced by multi linear evolutionary theory that recognizes that there are many evolutionary tracks that societies can follow. It rejects the unilinear evolutionary view that all cultures advance toward a model represented by western culture as ultimately ethnocentric and often racist.
Social Darwinism also made the fatal error of equating contemporary nonliterate cultures with the hypothetical primeval savage society. It failed to understand that all contemporary peoples have had a prolonged and evolved past. The failure of many of them to have a written record of the past led the Social Darwinists to assume erroneously that they had none. Further, they did not understand that many nonliterate societies deemphasize changes in the past to stress their continuity with it. This is especially true in cultures that glorify traditions and reify their sameness with their ancestors. Social Darwinists made ethnocentric and subjective pronouncements. They viewed their own society’s art, religion, morals, and values according to their notions of what was good and correct, explaining such ‘‘barbaric’’ practices as polygamy and sexual promiscuity based on their own national and individual norms. They biased their analysis with their own moral feelings on such customs and practices.
Another factor in the decline of evolutionary theory was that it was involved with an irrelevant set of questions. For instance, what difference does it make which society represents the apex of civilization and which the nadir if it does not aid in understanding contemporary marriage and family systems? This is especially the case in a world undergoing revolutionary changes and one in which formally isolated cultures are becoming more and more involved with western civilization as a result of colonization. Social scientists felt that attempts to theorize about the historical evolutionary process were not as important as examining the influences which cultures had on each other. Societies did not evolve in isolation, but continually interacted and influenced each other. One final factor in the decline of evolutionary theory was the shift in focus of the sociology of the family. This shift was in part precipitated by the sweeping changes in American and European societies during the nineteenth century. Social scientists were appalled by the excesses of industrial urban society and the calamitous changes in the family system. The precipitating factor seen in this change in the family were the sweeping changes in American and European societies during the nineteenth century brought about by the industrial revolution.
Social Policy and Reform
Toward the end of the nineteenth century and through the early twentieth century social scientists concerned about the abuses arising from rapid urbanization and industrialization began to see the decline in the importance of kinship and community participation and the changes in the makeup of the nuclear family as more important areas of investigation than the study of the evolutionary transformations of the family. Their research and theories focused on the causal connections relating family change to the larger industrial and urban developments occurring in the last two centuries. Much attention was given to theoretical analyses of the effects these changes had on the individual, on women, men, and children, on the family, on kinship structures, and on the larger community and the society.
Sociology in the US shifted its emphasis away from the study of social evolution to the study of social problems and the advocacy of social reform. The paramount concern was the study of the family in the context of the abuses of rapid industrialization and urbanization. The emphasis switched from the development of theories of family systems to the more urgent concerns of individual families and their members. Illegitimacy, prostitution, child abuse, and other resultant abuses were seen as arising from nongovernmental supervision of industrial and urban institutions. This underlying assumption about the causes of social problems was held by the social reform movement’s major advocate, the Chicago School of Sociology, which was composed of such important sociologists as Robert E. Park, Ernest W. Burgess, Louis Wirth, E. Franklin Frazier, W. I. Thomas, and Florian Znaniecki. They contributed much to the development of family sociology and urban sociology. The Chicago School developed a distinct contrast between urban and rural life. They saw traditional patterns of life being broken down by debilitating urban forces, resulting in social disorganization within the family. An underlying theme was the loss of family functions as a result of urbanization and industrialization.
In traditional societies, the family (following the argument of Chicago School sociologists William Ogburn and Ernest Burgess) performed economic, educational, recreational, religious, and protective functions. In modern society most of these functions have been taken over as a consequence of the increased participation of government, economic enterprises, and education. The cornerstone of family life was its companionship and emotional functions. This shift in family functions led to Burgess’s famous classification of family types as moving from ‘‘institution to companionship.’’ According to Burgess, the institutional family is sustained by external community pressures and involvements; the companionate family, on the other hand, is sustained by the emotional attachments among its members.
Beginning in the late 1930s and accelerating after World War II, many of the views of the Chicago School either merged with or influenced newer perspectives. By the 1950s the dominant school was structural functionalism, under the intellectual leadership of Talcott Parsons, who was one of the most predominant and influential sociologists of the twentieth century. According to Parsons (1943), the isolation of the nuclear family ‘‘is the most distinctive feature of the American kinship system and underlies most of its peculiar functional and dynamic problems.’’ The typical American household consisted of a husband, wife, and children economically independent of their extended family and frequently located at considerable geographical distance from it. Parsons viewed American society as having been greatly changed by industrialization and urbanization. In particular, he believed it had become highly ‘‘differentiated,’’ with the family system’s previous educational, religious, political, and economic functions being taken over by other institutions in the society. By differentiation, Parsons meant that functions performed earlier by one institution in the society are now distributed among several institutions. Thus, schools, churches, peer groups, political parties, voluntary associations, and occupational groups have assumed functions once reserved for the family. Rather than viewing industrialization and urbanization negatively, Parsons saw the family as becoming a more specialized group. It concentrates its functions on the socialization of children and providing emotional support and affection for family members.
Parsons further suggested that the isolated nuclear family may be ideally suited to meet the demands of occupational and geographical mobility inherent in industrial urban society. Unencumbered by obligatory extended kinship bonds, the nuclear family is best able to move where the jobs are and better able to take advantage of occupational opportunities. In contrast, the traditional extended family system of extensive, obligatory economic and residential rights and duties is seen to be dysfunctional for industrial society.
Arguing against the social disorganization thesis on the breakdown of the contemporary family, Parsons (1955) found support for the importance of the nuclear family in the high rates of marriage and remarriage after divorce, the increase in the birthrate after World War II, and the increase in the building of single family homes (particularly in suburbia) during this period. All these trends provided evidence of the continuing visibility, not social disorganization, of the family and of the increased vitality of the nuclear family bond. Thus, a specialized family system functionally meets the affectional and personality needs of its members. Further, it may be admirably fitted to a family system that is a relatively isolated and self-sustaining economic unit of mother, father, and children, living without other relatives in the home and without close obligations and ties to relatives who live nearby.
In summary, Parsons emphasized the importance of the nuclear family – in the absence of extended kinship ties – in that it meets two major societal needs: the socialization of children and the satisfaction of the affectional and emotional demands of husbands, wives, and their children. Further, the isolated nuclear family, which is not handicapped by conflicting obligations to extended relatives, can best take advantage of occupational opportunities and is best able to cope with the demands of modern industrial urban life.
Modernization theory combines conceptual orientations from both Social Darwinism and structural functionalism to elaborate the theoretical relationship between societal development and family change. The concept of modernization, derived from structural functionalism, and the theories stemming from it have been the dominating perspective in the analysis of global social change and the family since the last quarter of the twentieth century. Modernization is usually used as a term in reference to processes of change in societies that are characterized by advanced industrial technology. Science and technology are seen to guide societies from traditional, preindustrial social institutions to complex, internally differentiated ones.
Modernization is often linked with a wide range of changes in the political, economic, social, and individual spheres. For example, there is a movement from tribal or village authority to political parties and civil service bureaucracies; from illiteracy to education that would increase economically productive skills; from traditionalistic religions to secularized belief systems; and from ascriptive hierarchical systems to greater social and geographical mobility resulting in a more achievement based stratification system. Likewise, the extended family kinship ties are seen to lose their pervasiveness and nuclear families gain in importance.
Modernization theory, while it recognized to some extent that cultural values of non-western societies might have an impact on the pace of industrialization, argued that they would not affect its inevitability. Diffusion theory and the convergence hypothesis, offshoots of modernization theory, predicted that cultural differences would diminish as less developed countries industrialized and urbanized. The held belief was that as societies modernized, they would come to resemble one another more and more over time. These societies would lose their cultural uniqueness as they began to act and think more like one another and more like the more developed countries. Accompanying modernization would be a shift to ‘‘modern’’ attitudes and beliefs and a change in the family and kinship system. The family change would see the diminishing control and power of extended kinship systems and emergence of affectional ties and obligations with the nuclear family.
The classic statement of modernization theory, centering on the family and change, is William J. Goode’s World Revolution and Family Patterns (1963). This work has had a profound impact on the comparative study of social change and the family. Goode’s major contribution is the comprehensive and systematic gathering and analyses of cross cultural and historical data to attack the notion that industrial and economic development was the principal reason that the family is changing. Goode concluded that changes in industrialization and the family are parallel processes, both being influenced by changing social and personal ideologies – the ideologies of economic progress, the conjugal family, and egalitarianism. Finally, Goode proposes that in the ‘‘world revolution’’ toward industrialization and urbanization there is a convergence of diverse types of extended family forms to some type of conjugal family system.
Dependency theories take strong exception to these predictions articulated by modernization theory’s hypotheses. Further, and more importantly, proponents of dependency theories have changed the focus of the analysis of the impact of industrialization and globalized economy. Rather than focus on whether or not there is a convergence to western models of modernity and family structure, they have focused on the impact of the globalization of the economy on the poor, not only in third world societies but in industrial ones as well. Dependency theories are of particular relevance in their analysis of global inequality on those who are most economically vulnerable: women, children, elderly people, and families living in poverty.
Women are particularly impacted by global poverty. Modernization theory often does not examine the experiences or structural location of women in their own right as societies undergo change. The belief that women’s status improves with economic development does not fully realize that widespread structures of patriarchy often keep women in subordinate positions. Patriarchy is the ideology of masculine supremacy that emphasizes the dominance of males over females in virtually all spheres of life, including politics, economics, education, religion, and the family. Its worldwide pervasiveness is particularly acute in the third world, where women have relatively little political power. Economically, when women’s work is not solely relegated to the household they are often found in lower echelon jobs where they work longer hours for less pay than men. Land, the principal source of wealth in most third world countries, continues to be controlled by men. Education is often seen as a male prerogative, and lacking education they have fewer economic options. Women’s role in religion often is of secondary or of little religious importance. Modernization, rather than significantly increasing women’s independence, often results in and perpetuates their dependency and subordination.
Globalization theory has become another perspective in examining family change. Here the emphasis is on an examination of the transnational processes that have an impact on families. Rather than focusing solely on families in the modernized countries or on families in third world societies, of paramount importance are relationships that exist and are experienced by individuals who have family members living in both rich and poor countries. For example, one concern is the impact of globalization on generational relationships among family members, particularly as a consequence of differential socialization experiences in different cultural settings. Also of much interest (Ehrenreich & Hochschild 2002) is the broad scale transfer of domestic service associated with female migration of women whose traditional roles result in their employment as child and elderly caretakers or as domestics in affluent countries while their families in their home countries suffer the absence of their services. The problems associated with international sex tourism are also of great concern. Another area of interest is the involvement of men who have migrated from poorer countries to wealthier ones primarily for economic motives. Not only do they maintain their contacts with their families in their home countries through financial support, but they develop trader communities that are transnational and which link them to their families and to economic networks (Stoller 2001).
Essentially, in evaluating contemporary perspectives on family change, we become cognizant of a twentieth/twenty first century replay of the ideological positions and arguments put forth by the Social Darwinists in the nineteenth century and underlining moral valuations inherent in these orientations. Modernization theory, through its utilization of structural functionalism, can be seen as the twentieth century counterpart of Social Darwinism. Likewise, developmental theory can be seen as a twentieth century counterpart that shares many of the assumptions put forth by nineteenth century radicals such as Marx and Engels.
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