Imagine a world where everybody was exactly the same. A world where everyone dressed the same, where everyone’s pets were identical, where everyone’s house looked the same. A world where everybody thought the same, acted the same and looked the same. The term ‘individuality’ was non existent. A world which indeed was characterised by total and complete conformity, through which it was constructed purely through a cadre of individuals which determined the very shape of our existence.
Although this may appear to be an extreme and very unreal perception of the way our lives may one day become, this so called ‘world’ typifies the major aspect of post-modernism, this being the concept of human progress. Without individuality, there leaves no room for creativity, therefore we as a society cannot advance. Although the term post-modernism is hard to define as well as clarify exactly, individual characteristics and institutions of such a world seem to present us with good examples to help do so.
Post-modernism surrounds us with great influences and the only way for us to understand and therefore resist such influences, is to take a step back from what we identify as our society and reflect upon the way that it once was. Throughout the years there have been many social institutions that have made a dramatic impact on society; none more important than the family. Although the family has always existed, its meaning and importance to life is ever changing.
The Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others book identifies the family as a, “Unit made up of any number of persons who live in relationship with one another over time in a common living space who usually, but not always, are united by marriage or kinship. ” (Beebe,Beebe,Raymond,243. ) The family is the oldest institution devised by man yet it has undergone some remarkable changes. Edward Shorter may have been one of the first to understand and describe this so called emerging post modern family.
He indicated that there were three significant characteristics, these being the adolescent indifference to the family’s identity; instability in the lives of couples and rapidly increasing divorce rates. (Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family, 1975. ) Although this may not have been quite so apparent throughout the 1970’s, we seem to relate more to this throughout our day and age. Firstly, traditional families tended to be very much extended families. “This term refers to a family system in which several generations live in one household. (Oxford dictionary of Sociology, John Scott & Gordon Marshall, 211. ) Due to the lack of institutions offering to help, such as nurseries, an extended family was very much needed. Extended families enabled both a mother and father to work if they wanted to as other family members were there to help the children. Also, if a family member fell ill as they got older, the lack of institutions such as nursing homes meant that they needed this extended family to enable everybody to be cared for and supported.
When people lived in extended families the grandparent, aunts and uncles etc shared the childcare, old age care, household chores and financial burden. They all lived within close proximity, sometimes in the same house, and sometimes in the same street so were available to help. This is very different to a post modern family, due to the fact that these tend to be very much nuclear families. “This term is used to refer to a unit consisting of spouses and their dependent children. ” (Oxford dictionary of Sociology, John Scott & Gordon Marshall, 211. Now that people generally live in these nuclear families, they have often moved away from where they were brought up either to another part of the country or even to a different country with their work for example and therefore the extended family is no longer available to help them. That is why it has become necessary for other institutions such as child minders, nurseries and old people’s homes to be there as there is no one available locally in the family to help. It’s not that we don’t need the extended family; it’s that they are no longer available in the same way.
Traditional families also seemed to be very much rigid in their context. By that I mean that the father would generally go out to work whilst the mother would stay at home to cook, clean and look after the children with the help of an extended family nearby. This was an acceptable way to live and many people felt happy that their needs were being met through this type of family. Yet as women have become very much more independent people, who do not want to rely on their husbands for financial support, they have been given the opportunity to work through paid providers of not only child minding but house work also.
Without this institution they wouldn’t have been able to participate in the workplace as it was too difficult to juggle both a family life with a career. Women often work nowadays out of financial necessity. The cost of modern mortgages, running a couple of cars, new technology in the home such as computers, satellite TV and the general consumer society, means that one wage is generally not enough in this ‘must have society’.
This can be seen as a very much functional way to live as both your family needs yet your social needs are met. You are given the opportunity to both have a successful career yet have that peaceful and fulfilling family life that so many are desperate for. Years ago people living in extended families worked to put food on the table and had little else in the way of luxuries. Most people rented their homes and very few had cars or new technology in their homes, also there was more of a community spirit with everyone helping each other.
Now we live in an individualistic society were we seem to be in competition with each other and need more money to buy things which our ancestors would have seen as luxuries. Throughout traditional times, there was a very low divorce rate in comparison to today. This can be seen as both good and bad in a variety of different ways. Some would say that the way our families work today are obviously not fulfilling our personal needs in other words, not functional, therefore we feel the need to divorce and find a life which suits us as individuals.
Whereas others would disagree with that and state that the only reason the divorce rate has risen is due to the fact that women have become a lot more independent, therefore they would be able to cope very well on their own, instead of relying solely on their husband for financial support. Throughout traditional times, it was seemed to be frowned upon if you were divorced, meaning that both women and men would stay together just for the sake of not disappointing people, whereas today, so many people are divorced that it is not looked upon as such a bad thing, encouraging people to get out of a relationship if they are not happy.
Now a days we communicate in a different way, for example by email and telephone or through a text message when we want to keep in touch, therefore it isn’t as necessary to see out extended families as much. In the past people communicated face to face and had to see each other more. Also this new technology affects the amount of communication that goes on in our homes as well as outside of them. Parents often sit and watch TV instead of talking to eachother or their children, and children often spend hours on their computers instead of interacting with the family.
This lack of interaction can often lead to divorce or a family breakdown. Through identifying the main differences, without looking any deeper or developing any further, the post modern family appears functional, as it meets the needs of the society in which it exists in. Yet many would disagree with this, stating that firstly, not all families which exist in post modern times are nuclear families, yet they still work and the members of those families are happy as their needs are met. A good example of this is in Asian families.
Three-quarters of Pakistani and Bangladeshi households have an average of five members, and three-fifths of Indian households have an average of four members. (Skellington, 1996: 62, 49) Suggesting that there is a value amongst these people that puts family before their own self-interest. Secondly, women are now able to work due to the fact that there are a range of institutions to help out. This would seem to be functional, as they are able to spend time with their children as well as progressing in a career. Yet, there have been many sociological debates as to whether this is a functional way to live.
For many post modern families there is dual socialisation between the family and the child minder, this means that at a very young age children have to keep making continuous adjustments between both societies. A family is suppose to be a stable unit, whereas a public institution develops social behaviour. Some children do not benefit from this type of socialisation because it is difficult to adjust to either situation upon a daily basis. A young child may be unable to form the necessary communication link between the two environments.
Also responsibilities are different between households, and child day care centres, leaving the child confused and divided, therefore neither will provide the necessary and crucial aspects of child life. And finally, the divorce rate is a major aspect of post modern families, suggesting that they are not functional. If the nuclear family of this post modern world, was fulfilling everyone’s needs, then the divorce rate would not exists or if so, be very low. Although this would suggest that the post modern family is not functional, this leads us to ask the question, was the family ever functional?
Although we can look back in time and suggest that the extended family suited the society it was in, there will always be other ways of looking at things, and providing such evidence to state that the family was not functional. To add to this, many people would view this term ‘functionality’ in a range of different ways and what may be seen as functional to one person, may not be seen as functional to another. Although there are many differences between traditional families in comparison to post modern families, both in most cases seem to be functional at the time in which they were present.
It is difficult to say that one is more functional than the other because although specific factors have changed, so has the developing society which surrounds it. Traditional families helped many cope with the way society was at that time and therefore seem functional because of that, yet if you were to place a traditional family, that being an extended family into a post modern world, it would be difficult for them to succeed in a way that other post modern families do so.
In some cases it becomes apparent that although the term ‘family’ is ever changing, it adapts to suit the society in which it exists in. Therefore, an extended family is functional of the way society worked in traditional times, and a nuclear family is functional due to the fact that it exists in post modern times, meaning that a nuclear family is the type of family needed for the way in which we live our lives in this day and age. Therefore it is difficult for one to say that one is more functional than the other.