Our culture in the West is infected deeply with the cult of the family. This can be witnessed daily from Westminster power politics to recommendations on millions of foods – ‘suitable for the whole family. ‘ When does a mainstream advertisement on the television or in a glossy magazine not evoke a sense of family harmony in conjunction with the product it promotes? ‘Family values’ are force – fed to the nevertheless apparently grateful population through many of society’s institutions from the judiciary, the media , the police at an unstoppable rate.
And it is not now an exclusively Conservative ideology – espousing ‘family values’ is a necessary requirement for all those, left or right it seems, aspiring towards any sort of effective political platform. Yet it is not true even that the majority of people in Britain live in family units; and especially not the nuclear family so promoted as the norm. What causes the family then to have become such an apparent bedrock of modern Western society? Is the modern family a product of the realisation of the ‘right’ way for society – is the family really the indisputable ‘good’ it is advertised as?Or is it really the product of economic forces, fulfilling the needs of capitalism? This essay will explore the family before it came into contact with the modern arrangement of resources and, through looking at the changes forced by the new economic patterns of industrialisation, attempt to uncover the reasons for the way the family is so promoted the post – industrialised West. Liberal ideology, with its insistence on the autonomy of the state and civil society, has long promoted the belief that what happens within our private lives, including the conduct of families, is independent of wider economic and social changes.
It is incomprehensible that the family, as high a moral and Godly unit as is supposed, could be subject to such earthly banality as the alterations in economic relations in common Western thought. The modern family and its many variations is however, as I will attempt to illustrate, as much a product of socio-economic trends as the children of a family are of their parents. The pre – modern family has long been thought of as typically much larger than the two – point – four clichÃ© of the late twentieth century.It is true that some families, particularly of the rich landed gentry and aristocracy were often very large, extending to forty or so people in one household of a Lord.
Many of these people were servants and not necessarily kin to the master of the house at all. Servants, in fact, made up a very large percentage of the population in Britain in pre – industrial times. This was not so in Japan, for example, but in England “..
. servants were the largest single occupational group.Family Life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations, Peter Laslett, Cambridge University Press, 1977 Similarly high proportions of the servant class of the entire population were reflected in other European countries at a similar time. Large families were for the rich a sign of status and wealth – unashamedly an institution inextricably linked with the feudal economics of the times.
It is on this point that I would like to draw the first major difference between family make – up or perhaps the definition of what a ‘family’ constitutes before and after the process of industrialisation.It is in fact only a modern notion that kin determines family membership; the pre – industrial family was a work unit. Although these large families did exist, the majority of groupings were of a much smaller size – the average pre – modern family size was 4. 75 people.
Even in working class families though, the relative unimportance of kinship ties is illustrated by the fact that it was to neighbours that a family turned to in moments of trouble rather than the extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc. hat today may be the most obvious choice.Only with the growth of the middle class, in response to growing the economic opportunities raised by population growth and demographic change, did kinship become the common characteristic for those in a family. The capitalistic individualism was promoted by the circumstances of the time and was reflected in what Weber called the Protestant Ethic – the moral and religious justification for capitalism.
This new way of … working was incompatible with a large or a more community based ‘family’ type unit.
The experience of agricultural workers illustrates how economic change preceded a change in family structure. In rural parts of the country, which most of Britain was, 65% of the population were employed in agriculture in 1750. The work on the land though was primarily home – based, and, notably, all members of the family worked although there were significant divisions of labour. Engels noted in his studies of the pre – modern family that before the rise of capitalistic means of production, men and women were equal partners, although they performed different activities.
In contrast to modern expectations of children, for example, the pre – modern child ceased to be so by the age of seven, and was often sent to fulfil an apprenticeship if the child was male or to become a servant or nanny, a typically female occupation. The development of capitalist agriculture however changed the pattern of family employment significantly. As consumer demand rose, at home and abroad, large landowners began the process of enclosure, forcing many smaller farmers and thousands of labourers out of work.Within land owning families, the rise of ‘impartial inheritance,’ that came with the agricultural revolution, further concentrated the ownership of land by passing it to the eldest son.
This too increased the male domination of economics and thus society from this period onwards. The sharp expansion of wage labour during the period of enclosure forced many families to head towards the squalor of towns, where the dominance of the male as breadwinner within the family forced on women the roles now thought of as ‘normal’ : that of child care and home – based activities.It was in the newly developing towns and industrial cities of the eighteenth century that the class divisions created by essentially unrestrained capitalism became apparent, and the differences between expectations of the roles of family members between differing stratas of society appeared. Feminism has provided a most comprehensive understanding of the role of women and the family within the politics, economics and society throughout history.
It was the growth of a substantial middle – class in the Western world which preceded the subjugation of women into the roles which the 20th century has seen slowly decline, i. . as home based ‘domestic manager and moral guardian,’ as described by J. Scott and L.
Tilly.The still widespread belief in the core of these values in many sectors of British society today illustrates their relationship to the economic framework – while capitalism continues, so do the essential parts of the value system it promoted. The authors mentioned above quote William Goode, from his book World Revolution and Family Patterns, in saying that “the crucial crystallising variable – i. e.
the necessary but not sufficient cause of the betterment of the western women’s position – was ideological… It is only necessary to cite the differences in ideological position between economically divided sections of society to understand that this is not the case.
While middle – class families after the beginnings of industrialisation may have promoted an especially sharp division between labour and home, and men and women, this was not found to be the case in working class families. Before industrialisation, as I have said before, the home was undoubtedly an economic unit, differently perhaps for different people, but nevertheless the economic motive for the family was explicit.After industrialisation, while capitalism’s new benefactors could afford to separate home life from that obviously connected with money – making, the working class family could not pretend that the two areas were unrelated. Thus women still engaged in economic activity because it was fully necessary: “The poor, the illiterate, the economically and politically powerless of the past operated according to values which fully justified the employment of women outside the home.
.. ” J. Scott and L.
Tilly, Women’s work and the family in nineteenth – century EuropeAfter industrialisation, however, the working – class woman in the home is an essential cog in the machinations of the economy. She serves to both provide emotional and practical support for her husband, the worker, and bring…
up future generations of workers and potential wives to sustain the capitalist economy: “When the husband returns from work he is exhausted – his labour power has been expended. His wife must spend the majority of her time before he returns to work restoring his capacity to endure the next shift…
The Housewife and Her Labour under Capitalism, H. Secombe, from Sociology of the Family, Penguin, 1980 Such a task requires that few women of the working – class can be allowed political or economic independence – it is notable that when women did gain some degree of freedom in the early / mid twentieth century, both the initiators and the benefactors of reform were primarily middle – class: when women were granted the vote in 1918 ownership of property was a condition of having a political voice.And today, much of female radicalism has a middle – class base. Women too fulfil another essential role for capitalism, as a reserve labour force when the economy is threatened.
This was most obviously seen in Western countries during the Second World War when even the Nazis in Germany, even with their strong ideological distaste for female work outside the home found it necessary by 1942 or so to employ women in the factories vacated by men who had gone to fight.Industrialisation and the introduction of capitalistic means of production changed the definition of a “family” in many ways. Before industrialisation the family was undoubtedly a community – based unit. James Casey, in The History of the Family Basil Blackwell, 1989 relates a French short story which illustrates how individual rights in pre – modern times were subjugated to the requirements of the community as a whole:”A young aristocrat callously rapes a girl, forgets about her and goes of to the wars.
… later] he is reunited with the girl and her baby, recognising them as his own.
He has done the right thing by the community, assumed his responsibility for a new household, become an adult. There is no hint of what we [as post – industrial liberals] find troubling: that his conduct as an adolescent may have flawed him fatally for adulthood. ” It was the divisive property rights however which accompanied the rise of capitalism which dispelled this however even if they have a beneficial side in protecting the rights of individuals such as the girl in the tale.With capitalism came the separation of the private and public spheres of life, the family and the community.
This particularly fascinated observers from lesser developed countries about America such as Toqueville. Aswell as the position of the family within society which was altered by industrialisation, the relations between the members of the family were also significantly disrupted, reduced to what Marx described as “simple cash nexus”.Thus the “Protestant Ethic” demanded individualism necessary for entrepreneurship but simultaneously demanded that women stay at home and look after those without whom the economy could not function, the workers. Prior to industrialisation also, work had been based in the home and man and wife would work and stay together for the vast majority of the time – the complex and large scale production methods of capitalism required that this was impossible.
And although it is arguable that in today”s late industrial world, children have been given the opportunity of education until at least the age of sixteen, the initial rise of factories and large scale production demanded that children were separated from their parents with whom previously they would have stayed and been taught the basics of a trade of some description at ages as early as seven to work in the dangerous atmosphere of an early factory or a coal mine. Industrialisation altered the family significantly, as an ideology and in practise.In the 1950″s in America, when the “family” was at its height, sociologists described as “functionalist” saw the family as the stabilising factor of a society; because such a unit existed, capitalism and its associated political ways of thinking could function. This maybe true, but these sociologists had it the wrong way around: the economy demanded such as stabilising unit as the family to exist to perpetuate the economic arrangement itself: the family is a child, not the father, of the basic structure of Western society.