Analysis of Family as and in Social Institutions
 
Estimated Number of Printed Pages: 4
 
TOPICS COVERED: One of the issues that's hidden in any discussion about the changing family is the idea that "the family" is an institution. But what hardly anyone talks about the fact that the family as an institution has changed just as much as the family has.
 
MEMOS ON RELATED INFORMATION: Definitions of Family, Family Structures
 
Links to Sources for this material are available below. Please also see The Factbook Sources page for further information regarding Factbook sources and their availability.
 
 

PAGE INDEX:

 
 

ANALYSIS OF FAMILY AND SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS

EXCERPTS ON FAMILY AS AN INSTITUTION

 
 
 

ANALYSIS OF FAMILY AND SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS

 
 
In his essay "Tuning In, Tuning Out, The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America," Robert Putnam introduced his theory that American society was becoming a society that was "bowling alone" – a society where people were increasingly isolated and increasingly less involved in civic activities such as joining bowling leagues. 1.
 
At the time, Putnam did not believe that the time pressures, the changing role of women, or the breakdown of the traditional family unit were to blame for this. He did not credit family instability for being responsible for the breakdown of civil engagement and larger social trends, because, essentially, he dated the the breakdown of civic engagement as having predated the rising divorce rates. Instead, disintegration of marriage, he offered, was probably "an accessory to the crime, but not the major villain of the piece." 2.
 
Putnam reportedly subsequently concluded that time / money pressures such as a dual-career family, are partly to blame for this breakdown of civic engagement. 3.
 
 
But here's the thing, for decades, it has been a consistent argument amongst (primarily conservative) defenders of the family, that it is, in fact, the rise of civic / social institutions is responsible for transformation, if not the decline of the family. So Putnam gets it, from this perspective, completely backwards. Because in this viewpoint, it's not that families or their transformation are to blame of the changing larger societal involvement, but that the larger societal involvement is to blame for the changing / transformation of the family. While Putnam dismisses the family as a "key form of social capital," these authors argued that it is Putnam-mourned social institutions that are the major villain of the piece! 4.
 
 
Fascinatingly, Czech sociologists credited the family as being the tool that helped bring down Communism in Czechoslovakia. The Communist government had promised to end the traditional bourgeois family structure, and created institutions designed to replace it – even including infant boarding houses. But, during times of crisis, the government could not provide for the people – and families got together and were able to fulfill the people's needs, both material and emotional. 5.
 
 
In a similarly intriguing vein, Ethan Watters, in his book, Urban Tribes, critiques Putnam's argument by saying that – while there may be a decline in participation in formalized activities – there are informal, non-consanguinal substitute-familial forms that are heavily invested in social capital. These forms, Watters argues, are taking place of families in certain roles, such as matchmaking, but are complimentary to the family in others. While not in diametric opposition to the familialists, that view is another form of stark contrast to the Putnam position. 6.
 
Consider that as you read some of the following quotes – most of which were written during or before the rise of the social institutions mourned by Putnam.
 
 
 

ANALYSIS OF FAMILY AND SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS

 
 
 

EXCERPTS ON FAMILY AS AN INSTITUTION

 
 
 
According to sociologist William F. Ogburn, the family – under the pressures of urbanization and industrialization – was stripped of many of its traditional functions until its only remaining functions were psychological: "to socialize children and to provide emotional sustenance and support for family members." 7.
 
 
 
"After World War II, Talcott Parsons played a central role in defining the issues that informed the study of the family. He treated the family as a small group that served basic functions for the larger society, including reproduction, regulation of sexual behavior, socialization into adult roles, and emotional support. He argued that small, isolated nuclear families in which men specialized in instrumental, goal-oriented activities and women specialized in expressive, relationship oriented activities were particularly well adapted to the demands of an urban, industrial society. Parsonian structural-functionalism was profoundly ahistorical, and discouraged historical analysis of the family. It treated the family as a static unit . . . ." 8.
 
 
 
In 1930, a Harper’s Monthly Magazine essayist wrote: “To-day social and civic agencies, in taking over most of these parental responsibilities, have deprived the parents of an important bond of mutual understanding. In the ‘higher life’ of the family there is now little opportunity for the sharing of ex-perience between husband and wife. Professional groups, lecture courses, literary and religious societies, Chambers of Commerce, civic organizations, and clubs have absorbed their time and energies. Modern husbands have also lost the opportunity to know and value their wives as personalities in the simpler daily affairs of the household. In the field of hospital married partners of yesterday had another sphere in which they could appreciate one another’s true resources. But neighborly calls are to-day almost obsolete, while the gathering of guests within the home is being re-placed by the practice of entertaining at hotels, theaters, and other places of amusement. In every sphere of par-ticipation between husband and wife, life is becoming more intellectually and spiritually barren. . . . Almost the only personal needs which each finds satisfied through the other are those of financial income and of sex. the influences which are estranging wives and husbands are also producing a gulf between successive generations. Parents and children cannot know one another as intimately as in former days.” 9.
 
 
 
In 1930, the essayist continued: “If, through our segmentalized manner of living, the child is deprived of the steadying influence of the the parent, it is no less certain that the parent is losing the child. Should I wish really to know my boy or girl (and this will be increasingly true as they grow older), I must go out into the community to gain my knowledge. I must go to the playground supervisor or to the Y.M.C.A. in order to discover his athletic and social adjustments. . . What he is, in himself, as apart from all these pigeonholds and compartments, I have no way of knowing. He has ceased to be, for me, an intimately experienced personality, but has become a case study. I am no longer a parent, but a social worker. . . . ¶ Just as the bond between husband and wife is tending to become one merely of sex love, so the contact between parents an children is narrowing down to an intense but purely emotional affection. The break-up of home life does not, as some think, liberate the young from the tyranny and repression of an older gen-eration. For what really enslaves the young is not the customs of the past, but too narrow a love.” 10.
 
 
 
In 1930, the essayist continued: “It, therefore becomes necessary to forego parenthood, at least for a considerable time, and to conceive of marriage purely as a relation-shop for comradeship and sexual satisfaction. Hence, there are arising more liberal views of sexual morality. The institutions of trial marriage and the companionate . . are being welcomed both in theory and practice. ¶ Strangely enough this new conception of marriage, which as arisen as a necessity, has come to be acclaimed as a virtue . . . . a revolt against the narrow morality of the past and against a society which demanded continuous propagation as the expense of individual happiness. . . I am inclined to think that the renunciation of parenthood, has for the most part, been forced upon us by the conditions under which we live rather than selected by freedom of choice. When we remove from the home nearly all the activities in which husbands and wives can participate on behalf of their children, the rearing of offspring, even when it is not financially precluded, becomes a tiresome and irrelevant process. Having rendered parenthood difficult and meaningless, our next logical step is to abolish it A man and woman who have been thus divested of the prospects of household and children are spoken of euphemistically as ‘the new family.’ . . . ¶ . . . The restlessness felt by so many married couples is cue not so much to the choice of the wrong partner or to the disturbing presence of children as to the break-up and dissemination of their interests throughout the greater community . . . Now that both husband and wife are seeking career away from each other and their home, now that they have stripped off the burdens of children and household encumbrances, what is left for them to be companionable about? Some social genius of the future may work out a scheme for true self-realization in wedlock. but surely the current proposal of the revamping of family institutions are fraught with no large promise of success.” 11.
 
 
 
In 1930, the essayist continued: “You cannot cure institutions by institutions. . . The content of family life, however, is not changing; it is disappearing. When people shall have ceased to live and to participate in the freedom of face-to-face association, when they shall have scattered their interests into diverse organizations throughout the great society, we cannot say that the family as altered; we can only say that it has tone. No salvaging of conjugal and filial customs, no skill exerted in promoting co-operation between the parents and the community will bring it back. All the ingenuity and resources of the Government will be of little avail. . . . . We have set up vast corporate organizations and associations of every conceivable public function; but the life which these institutions were developed to foster is crushed and scattered beneath their weight. We have erected a stupendous civilization; but we have not learned how to use it.” 12.
 
 
 
In 1940, a sociologist wrote that “. . . the specific functions which the family once performed within these categories have been largely transferred to other insti-tutions, while at the same time new specific functions, elaborations, refine-ments, and additions have developed within the family. ¶ Recreational functions are being transferred, some to and some from the family. Many activities formerly car-ried on in the backyard or in the family living room have been moved to schools, churches, and group-work institutions. Yet at the same time the radio, the automobile, the growing practice of having play and game rooms, and the enforced economy of the depression have operated to restore recreation to the home. . . . In so far as housing becomes more spacious and adequate, the additional space will probably be used largely for leisure-time activities. Families of higher economic status carry on hobbies and other recreations in the house or on the grounds, which among the poorer classes must be conducted in the settle-ment house, the park, or the street. While activities themselves may be largely outside, the home becomes more important as a telephonic center for preparation and making contacts, and as a storage place for equipment. The organization of the individuals leisure life increasingly centers in the home as homes become more adequate and living standards rise.” 13.
 
 
 
In 1947, Senior Scholastic editorialized: "Families no longer 'do things together' automatically like the way our grandparents' did. So the Marshes constantly think up new things that the family can do as a unit." 14.
 
 

In 1950, sociologist Hollingshead wrote: “The home is the center of family life, and the hope [ironic sic] of most working-class families is a single-family dwelling with a yard; but a fifth to one-half are forced to live in multiple dwelling units with inadequate space for family living. Added to this is the working-class mos that one is obligated to give shelter and care in a crisis to a husband’s or wife’s relatives or to a married child. Thus, in a considerable percentage [sic] of these families the home is shared with some relative. Then, too., resources are stringently limited, so when a family is faced with unemployment, illness, and death it must turn to someone for help. In such crises, a relative is called upon in most instances before some public agency. The relative normally has little to offer, but in most cases that little is shared with the family in need, even though grudgingly. ¶ While crises draw family members to-gether, they also act as divisive agents; for when a family has to share its lim-ited living space and meager income with relative, kin ties are soon strained, often to the breaking point. One family is not able to give aid to another on an extensive scale without impairing its won standard of living; possibly its own security may be jeopardized. In view of this risk, some persons do everything short of absolute refusal to aid a rela-tive in distress . . . This ordinarily results in the permanent destruction of kin ties, but it is justified by the belief that ones won family’s needs come first.” 15.

 
_________________________________________________________________________
 
 
1. Robert D. Putnam, "Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America," 1995 Annual Meeting Highlights, The 1995 Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture, PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 664-683 (December 1995), pp. 670-671, 677. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1049-0965%28199512%2928%3A4%3C664%3ATITOTS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7
2. Robert D. Putnam, "Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America," 1995 Annual Meeting Highlights, The 1995 Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture, PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 664-683 (December 1995), pp. 670-671, 677. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1049-0965%28199512%2928%3A4%3C664%3ATITOTS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7
3. See discussion, Ethan Watters, Urban Tribes. Bloomsbury USA (2003), pp. 96-97. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1582342644/ref=lpr_g_1/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
4. Robert D. Putnam, "Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America," 1995 Annual Meeting Highlights, The 1995 Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture, PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 664-683 (December 1995), p. 671. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1049-0965%28199512%2928%3A4%3C664%3ATITOTS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7
5. See Ivo Mozny and Tomas Katrnak, "The Czech Family," Handbook of World Families, Bert N. Adams and Jan Trost (eds). Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 235-261 (2005). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0761927638/qid=1123855404/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
6. See, for example, Ethan Watters, Urban Tribes. Bloomsbury USA (2003), pp. 96-97, et seq. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1582342644/ref=lpr_g_1/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 See also, Watters interview, ________, "The New Thirtysomethings," To the Best of Our Knowledge, Program 04-05-16-A, Wisconsin Public Radio (May 16, 2004). Archived at: http://wpr.org/book/040516a.html
7. ________, "Family Structures," Encyclopedia of American Social History. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, Reproduced in the History Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. Archived at: http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/HistRC Document No. BT2313027032 (1993). See also________, "Arranged Marriages and the Place They Have in Today's Culture," NPR Talk of the Nation trans. (July 20, 1999). Archived at: http://www.newsbank.com ("So that changes, as in the 19th century, work leaves home. Women get downgraded to servants where before they had been work partners. The farmer really did require a farm wife and the fisherman really did require a fish wife to handle the books and take the fish to market. Women were no longer business partners, but started being the servants instead of overseeing the servants, and men left home to go to work. So what did the two have in common really anymore but their inner lives?")
8. ________, "Family Structures," Encyclopedia of American Social History. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, Reproduced in the History Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. Archived at: http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/HistRC Document No. BT2313027032 (1993).
9. Floyd H. Allport, “Must We Scrap The Family?” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 186-194 (July 1930), pp. 186.
10. Floyd H. Allport, “Must We Scrap The Family?” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 186-194 (July 1930), pp. 187.
11. Floyd H. Allport, “Must We Scrap The Family?” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 186-194 (July 1930), pp. 188-189.
12. Floyd H. Allport, “Must We Scrap The Family?” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 186-194 (July 1930), pp. 193-194.
13. Joseph Kirk Folsom, “The Changing Role of the Family,” Annals of the Amer. Acad of Political and Social Science, Vol. 212, pp. 64-71 (November 1940), p. 64.
14. ________, Article, Senior Scholastic, p. 8 (May 5, 1947).
15. August B. Hollingshead, "Class Differences in Family Stability," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 272, pp. 39-46 (November 1950). p. 45.