family theory 1633

maintain that women contribute more than
they receive in return. Second, processes of
control and domination are thought to come
into play whenever men and women interact.
Relations between husbands and wives are
identified as power relations, in which men
dominate over women. Feminist theories of
marriage and family therefore devote much
attention to analyzing structures of patriarchy,
or the oppression of women by men. Third,
ideological legitimations of gender inequality
are held to be responsible for the acceptance
by women of their own subjection. It is claimed
that there exists an ideology of familism, or
familialism, that supports traditional family
norms, including traditional gender norms.
Feminist theory considers familism to be a
restrictive ideology that is a barrier to womens
liberation. For example, there is the domestic
ideology which encourages girls to think that
putting family responsibilities first is the nor
mal pattern for women.
Viewed from the perspective of feminist the
ory, the family is a concept which has been
created and distributed by those whose inter
ests it serves (mainly men). Scholars working
in the feminist tradition therefore argue that
existing concepts of the family must be decon
structed, or decomposed. As a result, the social
scientific concept of the family as a system is
replaced by the concept of the family as
an ideology. That is to say, the family is
thought to be a set of ideas which obscures
more fundamental relations, such as the sex/
gender system.
One of the most obvious applications for
feminist theory has been the study of the divi
sion of household labor between husbands and
wives. For example, feminists have been inter
ested in time use studies which have examined
the contrasting amounts of time that men and
women devote to housework.

Family Ecology

A concern with individuals and their environ
ment is at the heart of the ecological approach.
A persons behavior is seen as a function of the
interaction between the persons traits and
abilities and their environment. One of the
most popular ways of thinking about this is to
conceive of the nested ecosystems in which the
individual human being develops. First, there
is the microsystem of connections between per
sons who are present in the immediate setting
directly affecting the developing person. Sec
ond, there is the mesosystem consisting of lin
kages between settings in which the developing
person actually participates. Third, there is the
exosystem that consists of linkages between
settings that do not involve the developing
person as an active participant, but in which
events occur that affect, or are affected by,
what happens in the setting. And finally, there
is the macrosystem consisting of overarching
patterns of ideology and organization of the
social institutions common to a particular cul
ture or subculture. Individuals develop within
the family microsystem, and families are situ
ated within society. The relations between a
family and the larger society are meso , exo ,
and macrosystem issues.
An ecological approach can be taken to
family decision making. Here the family is
viewed as a system interacting with its environ
ment. The embeddedness of the family system
in the larger ecosystem is emphasized, and the
interchanges that take place between the var
ious levels are described.


The main current emphasis in family theorizing
does not fit into any of the theoretical frame
works identified above. Perhaps it deserves
to be identified as a distinctive theoretical
approach. This approach is concerned with the
deinstitutionalization of family life. It is asso
ciated with the work of Ulrich Beck and Elisa
beth Beck Gernsheim as well as the work of
Anthony Giddens.
Beck and Beck Gernsheim have advanced
individualization theory. This states that many
of the changes occurring in families are the
result of a long term trend in modern socie
ties to accord more autonomy to individuals.
Individualization involves liberation from tra
ditional commitments and personal emancipa
tion. Individuals construct their own lives, and
they therefore make decisions about whether
and whom they shall marry, whether or not to
have children, what sort of sexual preference