Sociology Chapter Nine Review

What do I remember from the last chapter I read in the soci text?

What is “the family”?

Family is a social institution:

-pattern of social relationships

-endures over time

-result from an enduring set of ideas about what is important in society and how best to accomplish these goals

1) How do families vary?

a) Family is defined in various ways (ie, who makes up the family differs)

-ie, Nuclear family, census family, extended family, modified extended family, household

b) Patterns of relationships within the family vary

-ie, monogamy or polygyny (polygamy or polyandry)

c) Legal relationships differ

-ie, arranged vs. free-choice marriage

d) Patterns of Authority and descent vary

-authority: patriarchal or matriarchal/matrifocal

-descent: patrilineal, matrilinal, bilateral

2) How have sociologists conceputalized/explained family patterns?

-Political Ecnonomy approach, structural functionalist, social constructionist/symbolic interactionist, feminist, post-modern

3) What are some issues within Canadian Families?

-Wife abuse, divorce/repartnering, affordable childcare, assisted conception/low fertility, sharing domestic work.

4) What are demographic trends in Canada?

The details on each topic follow.

1) Variations in family life:

What do most definitions of “the family” assume?

-members of a family are related

-they share a dwelling

-“family” is determined by legal obligations members have towards one another, not by bonds of care or services provided to one another

-usually defined by the (hetero)sexual relationship between a couple

What did academics used to assume?

-Families were related by blood/adoption/marriage

-Parents maintained a sexually exlusive relationship with one another

-shared a dwelling/earnings/other resources

-Parents reproduced and raised kids together

-Family members protected one another (see S/F perspective – many of these assumptions are evident here)

a) The Definitions:

nuclear family: Parents and children sharing a dwelling

Census family: Consists of a married couples  sharing a dwelling, and co-habiting couples living together for over one year. May or may not have never-married children. Also includes lone-parents with never-married children, and was changed in 2006 to include same-sex couples (and NMC’s).

household: Individuals sharing a dwelling, not necessarily related.

Extended family: Several generations of adult siblings, thier spouses, and kids.  They share resources and a dwelling.

Modified extended family: An extended family that lives in close proximity to one another and rely on one another for economic and social support, ie, like extended family but they don’t share a house.

-Most Canadians live in nuclear families, but culture (and related historical experiences, immigrant status, SES, traditions, and religious beliefs) also determines family form – ie, both extended families and mod. EF’s are common among immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia; EF’s are common among First Nations, Southern European immigrants, and some Asians.

-Contrary to what sociologists used to believe (ie, Parsons and Bales) nuclear families have always been more common among North Americans and most Europeans;  extended families were not more prevalent prior to industrialization (which contradicts one of the Political Economist’s main assumptions).

b) Patterns of relationships within the family vary

-ie, monogamy or polygyny (polygamy or polyandry)

Polygyny – multiple spouses.

Polygamy (multiple wives) is the most common form of polygyny. It allows many children to be born into one family, which is useful if the family is the main unit of economic production. In societies that use patrilineal descent, this also ensures that resources stay within the father’s line; it is difficult to determine where the wife, children, and associated resources goes if no one knows who the father is (which is a probable occurance within polyandrous unions, ie, if a woman had many husbands).

-Polygamy is assoicated with patriarchy (families are structured to suit men’s interests) and wide age gaps between husbands and wives.

-First wives gain status when he takes other wives – she acts as a supervisor.

Polyandry: a woman has many husbands – they are usually all brothers. This keeps a parcel of land intact (if the men went off and started thier own families with different wives, the land would have to be divided amongst them).

-Polyandry is thus not necessarily associated with matriarchy/matrifocal authority systems.

c) Legal relationships differ, ie different marriage systems:


Assumes: Family status (including potential hiers, solidarity), alliances between families, family’s reputation, resources available to a family, and parental wisdom forms the basis for legal union.

Related terms:

dowry – Price paid BY the bride’s family TO the grooms family.

-So a dowry consists of furnishings, money, servants, land, etc. that come “with” the bride, which allows her to attract a better husband (ie, wealthier, more respected, better family).  It also secures alliances between families, and it may help the couple establish thier new household (if it doesn’t become property of the groom’s family).

-Can also provide bride with some material security in case of a difficult/abusive marriage, but this depends on how much control women have over resources in the society.

bride price – Price paid TO the bride’s family FROM the groom’s family.

-So it’s something the groom’s family gives to the bride’s in “exchange” for their daughter (nice and sexist, that).  Bride is worth more if she’s pretty and/or comes from a wealthy/respected family.

Common among: Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants

Free choice:

Assumes:  Love/sexual attraction between a couple forms the basis of legal obligations.

Related terms/ideas:

Dowry tradition is reflected in wedding reception, honeymoon (I suppose the bride’s family is expected to pay for these things?)

Bride price reflected in ring exchange – he “buys her love,” with gold and diamonds, as it were.

d) Patterns of Authority and descent vary

Systems of authority:


Assumes:  Men have more power than women.  Eldest male is the head of the household, controls resources, and is the “public face” of the family.

Examples:  Seen everywhere.


Assumes: Women have more power than men.

Related terms: In matrifocal societies, wives/mothers have control over resources, contribute to family income, and a say in important decisions.

Examples: New Guinea – Tchambuli people

Systems of descent:

Patrilinial: Married couple belongs to groom’s family and lives with/near them. Property is passed from elder males to younger males.  Kids inherit dad’s last name.

Matrilinal: Married couple belongs to bride’s family and lives with/near them. I assume that property is passed through the mother’s line, and kids can inherit mom’s last name.  Sociologists prolly haven’t worked out the specifics because it is doubtful that a “pure” matrilinial descent system exists anywhere (I’d have to double check anthropologicial record to be sure of that though).

Bilocal: Married couple has social obligations towards both bride’s and groom’s families.  Couple can live where-ever they want (usually on their own, away from either family), can inherit from both sides, and take either mom’s or dad’s last name (still usually dad’s).

2) Theories that attempt to explain how/why certain families come into being, and what changes family structures:

Political Economy:

Assumes:  One’s relationship to the economic cycles and power structures informs how they think (ideas/beliefs) and behave (interpersonal relationships);  so family structure is related to economic and political conditions.

Change:  Is caused by conflict between groups in society  -ie b/t those who control production and make laws, and those who don’t

Thinkers:  Marx & Engels

Examples:  Nuclear family arose as a result of urbanization/industrialization.  Family was changed from a “unit of production” to a “unit of consumption” as it became cheaper to manufacture goods in factories (located in cities) than within the family unity (on a farm).  Patriarchal authority diminished as men moved into factories, and an employer’s requirements (not the patriarch) determined how “family” and “personal” time was structured. The apparent divide between the “public” and “private” spheres (and current gendered division of labour and associated ideologies of masculinity and femininity) was not caused by traits inherent to genders, but only “seemed” natural due to the way work is structured under industrial capitalism.


Assumes: Societal rules and expecations create various family structures/systems, not economic changes or personal choice.

Change:  Doensn’t adequatly explain social change because it assumes that people/groups act in certain ways in order to conform to societal expecations, implying a stagnant society.  Difference is framed in terms of deviance, which the larger group attempts to regulate.

Thinkers:  Parsons & Bales

Examples:  Family functions to socialize children and meet personal needs of family members.

Related terminology:   

Institutional approach – the idea that this entity exists as a result of some common agreement on what is good for society and how best to fulfil the social good, and these ideas do not really change over time

heirarchy of generations – the idea that older generations socialize younger generations into socially necessary roles

Instrumental role – husband deals with outside world and provides

Expressive role –Wife supports relationships and nurtures family members

Social Constructionist/Symbolic Interactionist:

Assumes:  Niether economic/political conditions nor unconciously-held expecations inform family structure. Instead, we create certain families by interacting with one another AND EXERTING WILL.  Ideas we hold about what a family inform family structure; we actively construct our social world as we think about it and interact with others.

Change: occurs when ideas and perceptions change through interaction and reflection

Thinkers:  Cooley,  Mead, Blumer

Examples: How people’s percetptions and definitions of a situation (ie, a conflict) changes the situation itself

Related terminology:

verbal and non-verbal cues – speech, symbols, body language, etc.

Self – an entity that is capable of subjectivity – can create itself and reflect on the world;  and objectivity – can be the object of it’s own thought and that of others

anticipatory socialization – explicit, implicit learning in preparation for a future role



Power dynamics between men and women influence family structure. These play out at a micro and macro level; at the macro level this occurs through a gendered division of work that places women in the home/in caregiver roles.

-Can take a structural approach (ie, the political enonomist’s perpective with a “gendered” lens) or a social constructionist/SI approach (ie, looking at how interpersonal relationships, verbal and non-verbal comms, and meanings are gendered)

Change:  Ideas about how social change occurs depends on what side of the “structure/agency debate” your feminist thinker falls.

Examples: Structural feminists might focus on unequal/gendered division of labour within families; interpretive feminists might focus on women’s different moral characteristics or ways of relating/speaking

Related terminology: gendered division of labour, gender


Assumes:  Truth is relative and depends on your social location (ie, gender, race, culture, historical time period)



Related terminology:

3) Issues facing Canadian Families:

Sharing domestic work

wife abuse

assisted conception

affordable childcare


4) Demographic Trends


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