Eric D. Widmer

Widmer, E.D. and Castren, A.-M. and Jallinoja R. and Ketovici,K. (2008).Introduction In: Widmer E. D. and Jallinoja R.(Eds). Beyond the Nuclear Family. Families in a Configurational Perspective. Peter Lang, Berne, pp. 1-12.

The emergence of significant family contexts that are not easily circumscribed with reference to a household or a limited set of family roles has been underlined throughout the last decade by family sociologists, and an interest in family relationships beyond the domestic unit has developed. This book captures some of the logic accounting for those relationships by using a configurational approach, which emphasizes the interdependencies existing among large sets of family members. The book questions the emphasis on the nuclear family, an emphasis prevalent for some time in family research, and reveals the persistence in late modernity of various structural constraints weighing on contemporary families: Resources in time, money, and affection remain finite, and the logic of their distribution among family members is patterned. Families in late modernity Research, for a long time, conceptualized “the” family as a small, highly institutionalized group. The family was considered a well-defined entity based on a legalized partnership and its biological offspring within a common residence. Families were supposed to take care of decisive developmental functions more or less independently from their relational contexts (relatives and friends) while being supported by straightforward social norms within a clear institutional framework. This perspective, most obvious in the structural-functionalist-oriented work of the fifties, under the influential work of Parson and Bales (1955), was to a large extent rejected by family sociologists in the seventies and eighties on various grounds, one of which is its inability to deal with emerging family realities such as cohabitation, divorce, family recomposition, and the changing family roles of women and men. Since then, authors emphasizing social change in their work on families have tended to talk about choices, commitments, and negotiations that individuals make in their lives with others (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 1995, 2002; Giddens, 1991, 1995; Bauman ,1991). Giddens’s concept of the “pure relationship,” which he claims is an archetype of late modernity, exemplifies this perspective, with a supposed focus of intimate relationships on self-exploration, negotiation, symmetry in power, and the hypothesized weakening of external constraints (i.e., the wider relational context), on the relationship itself. This trend is obvious in most research that uses a qualitative methodology. Quantitative family research has made extensive use of household survey data that focus on the nuclear unit, with a large share of the studies concerning the marital dyad.....(continued in Widmer & Jalinoja, 2008).
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