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4.1 Family and meanings?

We have considered the difficulties of pinning down family definitions and meanings. We now ask whether it is indeed important to explore and unravel these complexities. Do the varieties of family meanings – or the meaning of ‘family’ itself – matter, or do they just provide a minor intellectual diversion? You may like to pause here for a moment to consider how you would answer this question for yourself. Do you think they matter, and if so, in what ways?

We consider this q
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3.1 Studying families

However, if the concept is so tremendously complex, how then can we study family?

Activity 3

Please read the following piece from Jaber Gubrium and James Holstein (1990), where you are introduced to Borg, the extraterrestrial
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2.4 The slippery language of ‘family’

Most fundamentally, however, we need to understand how language is used, and what ‘work’ it does as we interact with others in our everyday lives. As the sociologist and philosopher, Alfred Schutz (1954) argued, it is important to pay careful attention to the relationship between sociological and everyday concepts, since everyday concepts express the meanings by which social interactions are framed. So how do people themselves understand, encounter, interpret and evoke the very slipp
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2.3 What's so difficult?

Morgan's discussion helps us to think about how we can develop research, policies and interventions around ‘family’ when the key term is so problematic. But we also need to explore further just what is so difficult about this endeavour. There are also some clues to this in Morgan's discussion, in which he points out that:

  • there is a close linkage between everyday and academic language of family

  • there is a whole variety of
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2.2 Responding to the problems

Consequently, some academics have increasingly voiced concerns about whether it is possible to define family satisfactorily at all – or, indeed, whether it serves any useful purpose even to try. The extract you will look at in the following activity is taken from an Introduction to a four-volume collection of readings on Family: Critical Concepts in Sociology. In this Introduction, the author seeks to find a way of defining family that will work across the four volumes of readings on
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2.1 Attempting definitions

A common foundation for any academic discussion – as you may be well aware – is to start by defining the key terms. Not only may this help towards clear thinking and communication, it can also itself constitute a very significant theoretical task, since concepts make up the basic framework for developing knowledge about any subject.


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1.4 Structures of power & inequalities

At the same time, such judgements and responses are not just personal matters: they are also embedded in all sorts of wider and interpersonal processes of power and inequality. These processes shape social policies, professional interventions, and representations in the media, as well as underpinning everyday social interactions in family lives and relationships. If we focus on family meanings, we may not always put issues of power, material inequalities, and moral evaluations at the centre o
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1.3 Exploring values and assumptions

As you progress through this unit, we would like you to consider how values and moral assumptions are deeply embedded in family meanings. A central argument of the book is that ‘family’ is a notion which is suffused with values, desires and fears. This results in ‘family’ being a powerful ideal to which we may all react strongly, with regard to both our own lives and the lives of others. It is therefore very rare for people to discuss families without making judgements. Some
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1.2 Core questions

The idea of ‘family’ is thus very powerful, at least in the contemporary cultures of Europe and the New World. At the same time, family lives have been under constant scrutiny from all sides – from family members themselves, politicians, professionals, and media pundits. And this scrutiny does not seem to be abating, as people and governments struggle to deal with anxieties about the complexities and uncertainties of changing and diverse communities in a globalising world. H
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1.1 Introducing ‘family meanings’

Wendy: What's important about being in a family?

Juliet: I've got mixed feelings in a way, cause I sometimes feel they are over-rated … You don't have to be suffocated in a two parents and a couple of kids situation. To me that is not the be all and end all.

Fred: … it's the natural flow of family life isn't it. You know t
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5 Conclusion

Photographs can be used as documentary data in the social sciences. Although they may seem to have a special relation to the events they depict, the social processes of image construction must be considered when we look at photographs as documents. Photographs are depictions of what took place, but are produced through a series of operations that must be understood in terms of their social organisation.

Only by understanding these operations, their social, economic, political and psycho
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Family meal photographs: 1930s and 1990s

Activity 5

As a final exercise, look at the photographs given in Figures 9 and 10
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4.2 Nation and identity

Yet even if photographs are an ‘evidential trace’ of the reality they depict, they are far from perfect in this respect. Because a photograph could always have been made differently it cannot be ‘the whole truth’ about something (Becker, 1985, p. 101). If we think about photographs designed to inform (i.e. rather than art photographs in which questions of truth or reality are really not at issue) it will be obvious that the photographer's choices have determined what sort of
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4.1 Are photographs truthful?

In this unit, we've looked at several examples of the social processes of identity construction and a number of dimensions of identity. Our discussion has indicated that we cannot try to understand the role of images through one approach alone, but need to utilise both content and context analyses. It makes sense to ask whether the same sort of approaches can be applied to other types of image. How should we analyse ‘factual’ images which deal with social issues such as
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Looking at the family: the 1950s

Activity 4

3.2 Looking at the family

Activity 3

Look at the photographs in Figures 4 and 5. They depict families in di
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3.1 Photographic content and context

Can we analyse photographs to tell us something valid about gender, ethnicity, class and nationality? As the wedding pictures example begins to suggest, there are traces of social facts embedded in the images, as well as evidence of the social conventions and organisational practices that underpin their production and diffusion or circulation. What will be clear is that there is no simple interpretational tool or reading skill available to us that allows us to reduce the picture to a simple f
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The 1990s wedding photograph

How to Write an Introduction to Your Essay
Note: There is a couple of moments of silence as the instructor waits for you to read the paragraph. The instructor 'dissects' themfirst paragraph by color-coding, then explains the significance of each part of the paragraph.
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