Part III - Theories of  Family Change

 Origins: Various theories have been used to explain changes in the nature of the Family, as an institution.  Each school of thought has its own assumptions and focus, from Marxist approaches to a functional view of "natural" change as a response to changing social and economic demands.  Family Change theorists are a blending of social historians, political scientists, and sociologists, with a few psychologist types included. What follows is an overview of all these approaches to family change from a larger, cultural, more global perspective.

Family as a Functional Unit of  a Changing Society

Parsons (of Structural-Functional Theory fame) and Bales (1949) enumerated seven functions that the institution of the family was supposed to provide.  Individuals, their families, and society were asserted to benefit from this arrangement.  At the time of their enumeration, these seven functions were said to be timeless and resistant to change.  They are:
  1.  Regulation of Sexual Behavior   (Sex Regulation Function)
  2.  Replacement of members   (Reproduction Function)
  3.  Parenting of children   (Socialization Function)
  4.  Care and Protection of members (Protective Function)
  5.  Social Placement of Individuals (Prestige Function)
  6.  Companionship   (Social/Recreation Function)
  7.  Intimacy    (Emotional Function)
As you think about these seven functions, try to imagine how they may have been delegated to agencies and other institutions in the past decades - away from the family primary group to secondary, more formal estates.The function of regulating sexual relationships is more a matter of personal choice, regardless of marital status. The reproduction function is no longer completely a family matter, given the number of single, never married parents.  Socialization and Protective functions have become matters of  state, legal, and social agencies funded by taxpayers. In fact, in many instances, the family is a group from which children must be protected (i.e., emotional, physical, and sexual abuse).

In some views, the only remaining social function of the family is the last one - Emotional Function, or Love. In these same views, Love is strong enough an attraction to marriage in the beginning of relationships, but is too fleeting to serve as a strong enough attraction to stay married. Without other supporting social functions, marriages won't last - and this is exactly what has happened. The Family as Refuge  Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, describes the family of early modern capitalism, when the world was a hostile place for the average American.  He calls it A Haven in a Heartless World.  The family was designed to receive the bone tired factory worker or miner into its nurturant bosom, to heal him for the next day's travail. This image benefited capitalism in three ways:

As Capitalism grew and developed during the early 20th century, a highly flexible nuclear family evolved which was unencumbered by extended kin ties. The idea was to fragment the social supports provided by extended family, leaving only loyalty to the company in exchange for a subsistence livelihood.  Thus, changes in the needs of the economy produces changes in the form and function of the family.  Lasch's premise is that the family serves the economy.  This idea is the basis for all theories of family change.
Family as Encounter Group
John Demos sees three basic images of the family throughout history.  He includes Lasch's idea of refuge, but carries the model further.  Where Lasch is interested in emphasizing the economy, Demos is interested in changes in the workplace.  Demos wants us to think about the kind of work family members perform.
The Family from the Heart
Feminists begin studying the changing family by concentrating on emotions, disregarding any effects of capitalistic economy.  Arlene Skolnick reinterprets Demos' distinctions: Feminists, as we will see, argue the basic unfairness of saddling one female member with the responsibility of insuring every one else's happiness and satisfaction.   The divorce rate necessarily increased during this period, as individuals continually seek an ephemeral love relationship. By opting for a strictly perceptional definition of the family, or by using an historical element in the definition, the family can be allowed to vary. This could prove to be an important variable in  research.
Big Bang Theories of the Chicago School
For fifty years, the University of Chicago was an important center for discussion of American society and social problems.  By and large, the faculty was comprised of bright farm boys who showed enough academic promise to come to the big city to study.  They were part of the phenomenon they studied--massive urbanization. The theories of Ogburn, Burgess, Wirth, and others remain important to the discussion of family change.

Ogburn's Cultural Lag Theory
Essentially, Ogburn argued that family change arises out of the family's inability to adapt to changes in the material culture (i.e., technological  change, changes in social structure, and the concommitant changes in personal relations).  Lag refers to the time between the introduction of an innovation and its complete integration into the larger society.  Because of this lag, there results a continuously high level of social maladjustment.  The superstructure of society, what Ogburn calls adaptive culture, but what we would call family, education, religion, government, economy) must try to adapt to changes in the material culture. Its inability to keep up allows for high levels of social stress.  He pointed out the rapid, one-generation changes in family life patterns that have become standard for families since 1900.  In very real relationship terms, think of life without a television set, a telephone, or electricity.  The impact of these artifacts on family life is empirically measurable.

This point is illustrated in a wonderful movie, Avalon, which is the story of a typical immigrant family that settled in Baltimore. The evening meal took a long time to complete because everyone had the opportunity to join in stories and conversation.  Then a television set was introduced into the family's life.Now, as the family starts to eat, and conversations begin, someone shouts, "It's starting!" and each person stops talking, gathers up their plate, drink, napkins, and eating utensils to come sit in front of the t.v. and watch Milton Berle.

 Some of the results of increases in high technological social change for the family:

Burgess looked at internal relationships and emotions in a symbolic-interaction perspective.  He offered one of the first definitions of the family as a "unity of interacting personalities with mutual affection towards each other".  He maintains that the remaining function of family life by 1920 was affective growth (warm fuzzies).  The family now exists so that its members may achieve personal growth.

Louie Wirth's Social Disorganization Theory  (see Urbanism as a Way of Life, 1938).
Wirth maintained that rapid movement from the farm into urban centers resulted in anomie, anonymity, and loneliness, and a host of difficulties that he called urban pathologies.  It's the idea of the sick society that was popular in the 1960s (i.e., sex, drugs, rock and roll, urban decay).

Modernity Theories - Emerging from structural functional theory,  the family is seen as a social system (an organic analogy) consisting of complementary functions, rather than specific functions attributable to specific persons.  One role or organization of functions differentiates into two or more roles or organizations, which work more effectively in new historical circumstances.  New social units are structurally distinct from each other, but together provide that same function.  As a society becomes modern, there emerges specialists, like the difference between the country doctor and an ear, nose and throat man.  The modern family requires parental guidance rather than a mom or dad.  Mothers usually took care of child care, therefore the issue never arose until mothers went to work in great numbers.  Suddenly, child care is an important issue that must have attention--and quality child care at that.

Part IV - Theories of Family Violence

ORIGINS: The first official realization of the concept of family violence in the social sciences came in 1962 with Kempe's published research entitled The Battered Child Syndrome.  By 1970, some sociologists began to extrapolate from studies of deviance theory.  The first national survey on family violence was conducted by a University of New Hampshire research group in 1978, headed by Murray Straus.  This was a telephone survey, from which most of the information was used to theorize about family violence for the next four years.

FOCUS: From three perspectives:
Social Science attacked the concept of family violence using existing theories (the Big Five).
Family Therapy began developing treatment strategies.
Feminist oriented academicians and practitioners set up models of independent living for women choosing to be free of violence in their relationships.

 Theories attempting to explain violence in the family are many, despite a paucity of confirming empirical research (15 separate models from psychology, sociology, and social psychology are reported in Gelles, 1979).  However, in the interest of our class and the Big Five we have already studied, we can look at three theoretical levels of social organization that work together to explain family violence.  Social factors that push and pull us toward aggression and violence.

Marxian Conflict Theory and the Culture of Violence Perspective
Socialization practices which perpetuate the enactment of violent roles - Symbolic Interaction Theory. Elements of General Systems Theory with a Feminist orientation, that allow for role confusion, lack of clarity, and so on.  Here are some facts to think about: From the sheer amount of violence in popular culture (movies, television, reading material, flagrant headlines) to the definition of family members as the property of the head of the household and the household itself seen as private property by the legal institutions of the country (police and the courts) - it is clear that ours is a culture that often leaves little choice for its members other than resorting to violence.

Perpetuation of Violence in the Culture

Violent Behavior as a Learned Response.  Social Learning Theory suggests: That continuous reciprocal interaction between the individual and the environment (including vicarious interactions between the person and media) provides the basis by which the consequences of behavior are learned.

Research indicates that children who have witnessed conjugal violence are likely to engage in family violence later on in their lives. This "cycle of violence" approach does not allow for the large numbers of violence prone folk who have not witnessed such early lessons in aggressive behavior.  However, taking two fundamental concepts from Symbolic Interaction theory - we can address the perpetuation of violence in the family and elsewhere in our society.  Cooley's Looking Glass Self - whereby individuals come to evaluate themselves and alter their behavior in terms of the reactions of others. If we are met with violent evaluations of ourselves, we will come to expect to give and receive violence ourselves.

Mead's development of the Generalized Other is useful in explaining the production of violent relationships. Mead holds that by imitating at first and later perceiving others' evaluations through the eyes of the other, expected behavior is learned by steadily increasing the number of other roles through play until a generalized set of expectations is internalized. Countless thousands of repetitions of the I-me dialectic insure  the internalization of dominant cultural attitudes.  The expectation, and even the enjoyment, of violent behaviors and violent symbols is the result of the dominant values(the real values of our culture) being violent in nature.  You are what you take in. This is the stuff from which Normative Violence is made.  Therefore one of the consequences of sex role socialization is the social manufacture of stereotypical sets of expectations concerning the behavior of boys and girls / men and women.

The social production of female types or personalities who are dependent on male types for material and emotional welfare is perfectly consistent with status quo social relations where the male is working almost exclusively toward the performance of his provider role.  It is only when the economy, which greatly benefits from this arrangement, fails to give males ample opportunity to perform this role, that increases in the normal levels of family violence occur.  In such "hard times" it is likely that frustrated persons will vent their anger at those who most immediately remind them of their failures (e.g., women and children for underemployed males, and children for single parent mothers).

The real source of stress and frustration (e.g., inadequate or misplaced government policy, a faltering economy, poor educational opportunities) remains free of violence.  The ill effects of internalizing the norms of a violent culture extend beyond the production of physically violent citizens:

By inadvertently offering "violent examples" as models used to prepare children for adult relationships, we are in fact violating future generations.
Feminist-Conflict Theory and Family Violence
Thus far, we have discussed the normative tendencies for violent action and socialization practices which transmit the culture to the next generation - a symbolic interaction approach.  Marxist Conflict Theory places these elements of social organization into the Superstructure of society. That is, all elements of social life not pertaining to the Economy and the production of goods and services.  Superstructural elements are are all religious, moral, legal, and familial values which are created, implemented, and modified in accordance  with the vested interests of those in control of the economy.  Social norms are created which are designed to maintain the economic status quo. The violation such norms is punishable.  Therefore, we assume that family violence, like other forms of violence, is functional to the economy - since the economy would not otherwise allow its presence.

Feminists generally agree that the root cause of family violence is not the economy in the Marxist sense of it. They argue that patriarchy and not capitalism is the problem.  Almost all that we see, hear, and expect from society occurs in a patriarchal context,  which generally serves to oppress women as a group.

Think about the recent requests of politically conservative candidates for a return to "traditional family values". These folk would like for us to believe that it was change in male/female relationships over the past 20 years that have "caused" the current crisis in male/female relationships, and family problems.  In other words, the first cause of the man/woman crisis has more to do with women working outside the home than anything else.  I might add that women did not choose to work.  They were forced out into the labor market by a changing economy.  Even though Feminist scholars have revealed the "traditional American family" as a cultural myth - the traditional family form serves as an Ideal without substance for four reasons:

  1. For most working women with families, domestic chores remain a large part of their work    load in addition to job or career.
  2. Women tend to work outside the home because their families need the money - not for the sheer exhilaration of making a contribution.
  3. Focusing on a stable family life that requires mothers to stay home as the first cause of national  health has an undermining effect on the actual welfare of families with working mothers  (i.e.,child care costs).  Lack of adequate child care keeps battered    women dependent on their husbands.
  4. In order to foster a deep commitment to traditional families, women necessarily must remain full-time mothers. Parents, particularly mothers, are locked into social roles having obligations that were largely unforeseen at the time of marriage -  obligations that often cannot be met.
Viewing the inability to remain economically solvent while providing for the emotional and material needs of children and other family members as stressful - one can begin to interpret the results of past research in terms of a dialectic.  Stressful conditions of unemployment and financial distress have been statistically related to family violence for many years now.  The message from the polity is that if we work hard and maintain our strong, healthy families, we will achieve the American Dream.  This is true except for the fact that the system in which we exist does not allow for both financial solvency and stable families simultaneously.  One tends to occur at the expense of the other.

Without accompanying opportunity to improve the substance of family life, the symbolism of healthy families is pointless and empty.  By living under conditions whereby the feeble security of the family could be totally destroyed by any one of several sources of economic distress, family members become alienated from each other in a culture already primed for violent reactions.  Instead of facilitating caring and concern, it appears that we encourage intrafamilial conflict.

Putting all of this into perspective, there exists a culture predisposed to the advocacy of the use of "pragmatic" violence, which serves as an interpretive "umbrella" for members of society. The norms of this culture are transmitted through socialization practices largely within the family. This tendency to use violence "as necessary" is embodied in an ideology kept salient by the relationship between economic classes.  The economy finds the "threat of violence" beneficial to the social system's goals. Women in this system have been uniformly subordinate to their husbands, creating a class of potential victims.   Producing change in the levels of family violence involves radical change in several aspects of the culture.  The goal is to reduce the amount of social stress produced by economic flux and to devalue violence as an appropriate response to stress in other aspects of social life.

Forward to Chapter 12
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