Family in the West

Family types

Family arrangements in the United States have become more diverse with no particular household arrangement representing half of the United States population.

The different types of families occur in a wide variety of settings, and their specific functions and meanings depend largely on their relationship to other social institutions.Sociologists have a special interest in the function and status of these forms in stratified (especially capitalist) societies. The term "nuclear family" is commonly used, especially in North America and Europe, to refer to conjugal families. Sociologists distinguish between conjugal families (relatively independent of the kindred of the parents and of other families in general) and nuclear families (which maintain relatively close ties with their kindred). The term "extended family" is also common, especially in North America and Europe. This term has two distinct meanings. First, it serves as a synonym of "consanguinal family." Second, in societies dominated by the conjugal family, it refers to "kindred" (an egocentric network of relatives that extends beyond the domestic group) who do not belong to the conjugal family. These types refer to ideal or normative structures found in particular societies. Any society will exhibit some variation in the actual composition and conception of families. Much sociological,historical and anthropological research dedicates itself to the understanding of this variation, and of changes in the family that form over time. Thus, some speak of thebourgeois family, a family structure arising out of 16th- and 17th-century European households, in which the family centers on a marriage between a man and woman, with strictly defined gender-roles. The man typically has responsibility for income and support, the woman for home and family matters.

According to the work of scholars Max Weber, Alan Macfarlane, Steven Ozment, Jack Goody and Peter Laslett, the huge transformation that led to modern marriage in Western democracies was "fueled by the religio-cultural value system provided by elements of Judaism, early Christianity, Roman Catholic canon law and the Protestant Reformation".

In contemporary Europe and North America, people in academic, political and civil sectors have called attention to single-father-headed households, and families headed by same-sex couples, although academics point out that these forms exist in other societies. Also the term blended family or stepfamily describes families with mixed parents: one or both parents remarried, bringing children of the former family into the new family. Also in sociology, particularly in the works of social psychologist Michael Lamb, traditional family refers to "a middleclass family with a bread-winning father and a stay-at-home mother, married to each other and raising their biological children," andnontraditional to exceptions from this rule. Most of the US households are now non-traditional under this definition.

Sociological views

Contemporary society generally views family as a haven from the world, supplying absolute fulfillment. The family is considered to encourage "intimacy, love and trust where individuals may escape the competition of dehumanizing forces in modern society." During industrialization, "[t]he family as a repository of warmth and tenderness (embodied by the mother) stands in opposition to the competitive and aggressive world of commerce (embodied by the father). The family's task was to protect against the outside world." However, Zinn and Eizen note, "The protective image of the family has waned in recent years as the ideals of family fulfillment have taken shape. Today, the family is more compensatory than protective. It supplies what is vitally needed but missing in other social arrangements."

"The popular wisdom," Zinn and Eitzen say, is that the family structures of the past were superior to those today and families were more stable and happier at a time when they did not have to contend with problems such as illegitimate children and divorce. They respond to this, saying, "there is no golden age of the family gleaming at us in the far back historical past." "Desertion by spouses, illegitimate children, and other conditions that are considered characteristics of modern times existed in the past as well."

Still others argue that whether or not we view the family as "declining" depends on our definition of "family." The high rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births indicate a decline in the institution of the family. No longer are marriages arranged for political or economic gain, and children are not expected to contribute to family income. Instead, people choose mates based on love. This increased role of love indicates a societal shift toward favoring emotional fulfillment and relationships within a family, and this shift necessarily weakens the institution of the family.

Oedipal family model and fascism

The model, common in the western societies, of the family triangle, husband-wife-children isolated from the outside, is also called the oedipal model of the family, and it is a form of patriarchal family. Many philosophers and psychiatrists analyzed such a model. One of the most prominent of such studies is Anti-Ĺ’dipus by Deleuze and Guattari (1972). Michel Foucault, in its renowned preface, remarked how the primary focus of this study is the fight against contemporary fascism.

“ And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini [...] but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. ”

In the family, they argue, the young develop in a perverse relationship, wherein they learn to love the same person who beats and oppresses them. The family therefore constitutes the first cell of the fascist society, as they will carry this attitude of love for oppressive figures in their adult life. Kindship and family forms have often been thought to impact the social relations in the society as a whole, and therefore been described as the first cell or the building social unit of the structure of a society. Fathers torment their sons. Deleuze and Guattari, in their analysis of the dynamics at work within a family, "track down all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives".

As it has been explained by Deleuze, Guattari and Foucault, as well as other philosophers and psychiatrists such as Laing and Reich, thepatriarchal-family conceived in the West tradition serves the purpose of perpetuating a propertarian and authoritarian society. The child grows according to the oedipal model, which is typical of the structure of capitalist societies, and he becomes in turn owner of submissivechildren and protector of the woman.

Some argue that the family institution conflicts with human nature and human primitive desires and that one of its core functions is performing a suppression of instincts, a repression of desire commencing with the earliest age of the child. As the young undergoes physical and psychological repression from someone for whom they develop love, they develop a loving attitude towards authority figures. They will bring such attitude in their adult life, when they will desire social repression and will form docile subjects for society.

Michel Foucault, in his systematic study of sexuality, argued that rather than being merely repressed, the desires of the individual are efficiently mobilized and used, to control the individual, alter interpersonal relationships and control the masses. Foucault believed organized religion, through moral prohibitions, and economic powers, through advertising, make use of unconscious sex drives.
Dominating desire, they dominate individuals.

According to the analysis of Michel Foucault, in the west:

"the [conjugal] family organization, precisely to the extent that it was insular and heteromorphous with respect to the other powermechanisms, was used to support the great "maneuvers" employed for the Malthusian control of the birthrate, for the populationist incitements, for the medicalization of sex and the psychiatrization of its nongenital forms."

—Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality vol I, chap. IV, sect. Method, rule 3, p. 99

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