Set to explode
In 1947, Carle Zimmerman called on society to halt the pendulum of destruction by safeguarding traditional nuclear family life. His survey of 4,000 years of human history led him to discern a triple pattern being repeated. Out of primordial darkness emerges the trustee family — so called because the values and wellbeing of the clan are paramount and safeguarded by its members. Individuality in the clan-family is crushed and its power grows. But friction between clan-families causes instability. State and Church develop to ease and contain disputes, bringing about a reduction in the power of the trustee family and dispersion of its members into domestic families, policed and buttressed by a caring, controlling State. But State control means families no longer have the means to control their members. The atomistic family emerges. Hedonistic individualism is rampant divorce and illegitimacy are commonplace, sexual perversions abound — followed by total breakdown of society and a return to primordial darkness.
Wrenched into shape
Strangely, Talcott Parsons takes as his starting point many of the principles identified by Marx and Engels as underlying the structure of society and ends up with a family that trains its members to fit perfectly into a harmonious and organised whole. Engels puts changes in ‘mode of production’ first: hunter-gatherers live in roving bands, agriculturalists live in extended families, blue and white-collar workers jive in nuclear families. Parsons concentrated on the nuclear family. Industry needs flexible workers. A man cuts his ties with his parents, gets himself a wife to keep his house so he can concentrate on his job. Children are taught to do the same. Society’s needs are met.
According to William Ogburn, society has two main components — material and non-material culture. Advances in one sphere create ‘cultural lag’ in the other— with attendant disruption and chaos. Technology (the material) has advanced rapidly in recent years and drags an increasingly weakened family (non-material) in its wake. Before the industrial revolution centuries of agricultural life had spawned a family in which every member contributed to the wellbeing of the whole. But in just a few decades factories and jobs, hospitals, schools and restaurants changed all that Suddenly men earned wages, women became housewives, children became liabilities The family, failing to adjust to these drastic changes in its functions, is’breaking down’.
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