Sociology and Social Politics of the Family - SO702

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


Often presented as the most natural form of human organisation, the family's changing nature over time indicates it is no such thing. Particularly since the Second World War, driven by the transformation of women's position within society, the very idea of a typical family has been called into question. The numbers of those choosing to live alone in contemporary society even calls into question the very notion of family at all. This module explores how the family has changed historically in its role and relationship to the individual and society. We trace the development of the modern, private family and how it has been shaped by socio-economic, cultural and political pressures. We will particularly focus upon the tension between this private 'haven in a heartless world' and a society anxious about the family's apparent instability.

Synopsis of the curriculum
• The social history of ‘the family’ and its transformations.
• The sociology of the public/private split
• The evolution of policies relating to ‘family life’
• The ‘individualisation’ thesis
• The economics and obligations of the family
• Recent social and demographic changes considered to underlie the problem of the contemporary family (changes in fertility patterns, in marriage and co-habitation, the rise of single person households)
• Debates about specific current policies about ‘parenting’
• Critiques of state intervention in family life


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 128
Total study hours: 150

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
Coursework – essay (3000 words) – 40%
Coursework – seminar participation – 5%
Coursework presentation – 15%
Examination (2 hours) – 40%

Reassessment methods
100% coursework

Indicative reading

Chambers, D. 2012. A Sociology of Family Life. Polity Press
Lee, E, Bristow, J. Faircloth, J.C. and Macvarish, J. 2014. Parenting Culture Studies. Palgrave
Segalen, M. 1996. A History of the Family Vol.2. Harvard University Press.
Hays, S. 1996. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale University Press
Hendrick, H.(ed). 2005. Child welfare and social policy an essential reader. Policy Press
Smart, C. 2007. Personal Life. Polity Press

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes are as follows. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1.Be able to describe and assess a range of theoretical accounts of the significance of the changing character of the contemporary family
2.Understand the social, economic and cultural dimensions of the family.
3.Be familiar with debates about the nature of the relationship between modernity and 'the family', including through discussion of the idea of 'obligation'.
4.Have acquired an understanding of the changeability of 'the family'.
5.Be familiar with contemporary social research on the family and family policy.
6.Be able to identify the main policy developments in Britain in the area of family policy and be aware of the origins of these policy developments, drawing on relevant social scientific literature and empirical evidence.

The intended generic learning outcomes are as follows. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1.Conducting research, by using library e-journal and other on-line resources
2.Presentation of arguments in oral form, through developing skills in seminar discussion and debate
3.Organisation of information in a clear and coherent manner, through essay writing, and discussion of completed essays in seminars and module convenor office hours
4.Critical thinking, analysis and synthesis, through application of sociological theory and research evidence to understandings of social problems and policy responses


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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