Sociology of the Family
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Sociology of the family is a branch of sociology studying the construction and role of families, as well as the relations both within the domestic sphere and outward into the work sphere. For this purpose sociologists use a very broad definition of family; one source renders it "an intimate domestic group made up of people related to one another by bonds of blood, sexual mating, or legal ties".
Research methods in the sociology of the family can be broken down to three major approaches, each with its own strengths and weaknesses; which need be employed in a study, then, relies largely on the subject of, and questions posed by, the research.
One approach is survey research of contemporary families. This holds the benefit of leaving statistical data and large and hopefully random samples from which a researcher can interpolate the general traits of a society. However, survey respondents tend to answer as would feel regular or ideal rather than as things might actually be. It also gives a very one-sided explanation view of a larger group which does not sufficently allow for contention.
Another method is ethnographic research of families. Where surveys allow for broad but shallow analyses, observation allows sociologists to obtain rich information on a source of a much more limited size. It allows the research an "insider" perspective, and through this closer look a better idea of the actual social framework of families. Where surveys are strong, however, ethnographic research is weak. By reducing the size of a sample size, it may be no longer evident how representative the family being researched is to families at large within a society, and then also does not allow much room in linking the specific traits of the families being observed to a society more generally.
Finally, a researcher can use documented studies of families from the past as a source of information. These sources may include very personal items (such as diaries), legal records (census data, wills, court records), and matters of public record (such as sermons).
In attempting to explain contemporary society, it is important to look first at the social construction that lead to its development.
Hunting and Gathering societies
At an early stage of development societies may practice huntering and gathering. Ideal type characteristics for these societies include:
- Small groups (30-100 people)
- Open, elliptical camps
- Simplistic technology
- Children spaced apart 4-5 years in age (due to low fat diet and regular lactation)
Ideal type characteristics for labor division is as follows:
- Gather 80% of food supply
- Manage distribution of food
- Care for children
- Build/repair shelters
- Prepare the fields
- Care for children
- Build structures
- Help to gather food
- Discipline is passive
- Cared for by siblings, parents, and other adults
The general ideology of these groups is typically:
- Egalitarian (no hierarchy of power; men, women, children cooperate)
- Monogamus and bilineal
- Trial marriage
- Divorce not common, nor traumatic
- No wealth to divide
- Children continue to be cared for by multiple adults
Modern governments tend to take issue with nomadic groups, often forcing them to settle in a particular location. This can have various effects on the way of life among these groups:
- Physical context
- Solid permanent structures; doors close off families from one another
- Small scale agriculture and flocks
- Private property
- Wider political and social contact for boys
- Division of labor
- Women and girls
- Preserve and prepare foods
- Begin to be seen as domestic
- Men and boys
- Care for flocks
- Broader social knowledge and ties
- Begin to be seen as public leaders
- Women and girls
- Stratification by gender
- Stratification by class
- Marriage and divorce
- Become more formalized (parents take control)
- Reinforces class privilege
- Divorce becomes more problematic
- Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (Marshall, 1998)