Sociology and Social Politics of the Family - SO702

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
Canterbury Spring
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6 15 (7.5) PROF EJ Lee







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
  • Details

    This module appears in:

    Contact hours

    3 hours per week of mixed lectures and discussions plus 1 hour drop in session per week


    Available 2016/17

    Method of assessment

    Students will submit one coursework essay of around 3000 words, the marks for which will comprise 40% of the final mark. 5% of the mark will be for seminar participation. There will be an in-class assessed presentation worth 15%. Students will also sit a two hour unseen examination which will contribute the remaining 40% of the final mark

    Preliminary reading

    Finch, J. 1994. Family Obligations and Social Change. Polity Press
    Allan, G. and Crow, G. 2001. Families, Households and Society. London: Palgrave.
    Shorter, E. 1975. The Making of the Modern Family. Basic Books.
    McRae, S. 1999. Changing Britain: Families and Households in the 1990s. Oxford University Press.
    Allan, G. 1999. Sociology of the Family: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.
    Gottlieb, B. 1993. The Family in the Western World. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Gatrell, C. 2005. Hard Labour, the sociology of parenthood. Open University Press: Maidenhead.
    Hantrais, L. and Letablier, M. 1996. Families and Family Policies in Europe. London: Longman.
    Hays, S. 1996. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
    Furedi, F. 2008. Paranoid Parenting.Continuum: London.
    Lasch, C. 1977. Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged. Basic Books: New York

    See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

    See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

    Learning outcomes

    Be able to describe and assess a range of theoretical accounts of the significance of the changing character of the contemporary family Understand the social, economic and cultural dimensions of the family.
    Be familiar with debates about the nature of the relationship between modernity and ‘the family’, including through discussion of the idea of ‘obligation’.
    Have acquired an understanding of the changeability of ‘the family’.
    Be familiar with contemporary social research on the family and family policy.
    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.
    By the end of this module successful students will also have developed skills in:
    Conducting research, by using library e-journal and other on-line resources Presentation of arguments in oral form, through developing skills in seminar discussion and debate Organisation of information in a clear and coherent manner, through essay writing, and discussion of completed essays in seminars and module convenor office hours

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