Friday, November 11, 2005

Ideas About Family Life

I'm back after a brief illness and a fun night on the town Thursday. We've been delving into two topics related to major social institutions like religion and the economic system: (1) How do ideas shape the ways these institutions work, and (2) how are ideas transmitted through these institutions. Tonight's blog focuses on the family. This time I'll focus on how ideas shape family life.

What ideas, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are most important to family life? That's a mighty big question for a blog post, but here are some of the main ideas:

1. Gender roles - There are appropriate or "natural" roles for the man and the woman
2. Form - There is a "natural" structure to a family. A married man and woman who plan on producing children would be thwe "natural" structure in most modern societies. Never mind that other forms, such as single parent, group marriage, polygamy, and polyandry (1 woman with two or more husbands) are possible.
3. Desirability - establishing a family of one's own is one of the most important, maybe the most important, goal that a person can strive for. Beliefs about the emotional benefits and about "living on" through the children likely to be produced also make family life extremely desirable. Family men and mothers are somewhat more respected that long-time bachelors (Freaks!) and women who choose to be childless (Ugh, lesbians!), so there are two more ways that family life is desirable.

Not suprisingly, churches and legal institutions encourage behaviors and ideas that contribute to forming and maintaining intact families. This is how we ensure that people grow up knowing how to act in our society, what goals to shoot for, what religious beliefs to hold (or at least respect) and what the standards of "right" conduct are. (There may be less benevolent reasons for churches and governments supporting traditional family life - specifically, to keep women under control by forcing them into "helpmate" and "housekeeper" roles. Families also provide a way to keep people uinder control by passing along goals and sdtandards of behavior that support the existing social system.)

Next time: How does the family transmit ideas about social life, and where exactly do the ideas come from (Hint: I already explained some of this!)? After that I'll talk about the costs and benefits of some dominant ideas about the family.


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