This essay will review the book A Sociology of Family Life (Chambers 2012). The main focusses of the book will be discussed, alongside the strengths and limitations. In addition to this, evidence of wider knowledge of the subject will be addressed.
Deborah Chambers’s A Sociology of Family Life (2012) explores many aspects of family life including individualisation of the family, childhood and parenting practices. It primarily focusses on recent changes in the family such as diversity and changing patterns. Chambers (2012) challenges traditional approaches to family and many other topics using other sociologists explanations to support her own ideas, these other alternatives to the traditional family have not been acknowledged until very recently. The text rejects the traditional definition of the nuclear family coined by Parsons (1943) and instead offers other alternatives to the meaning of the family including friends as family, same-sex families and single parent families. Furthermore, Chambers (2012) discusses changes to the family as a result of globalisation. Chambers (2012) also uses concepts such as class, gender and ethnicity to examine aspects of the family in depth.
The first chapter explores traditional approaches to family life from sociologists before family diversity was introduced in postmodern society. Chambers (2012) uses Parsons (1956) concepts in the book to show the conventional views of early sociologists. Parsons (1956 cited in Chambers, 2012) argues that the nuclear family fulfils functions that enables society to function successfully. He describes that the family has changed in order to perform these functions after industrialisation, it has decreased in size from extended to nuclear and is now socially and geographically mobile. For Parsons (1956 cited in Chambers, 2012), the family performs two effective functions of primary socialisation and the stabilisation of adult personalities, this allows society to perform effectively as a social system. The feminist perspectives of the 1970’s and 1980’s are also discussed in this chapter. Feminists began to challenge the traditional female as a ‘homemaker’ and male as a ‘breadwinner’ stereotypes and argued that there should be an equal domestic division of labour after research showed that women are mainly responsible for the majority of domestic work including childcare, housework and emotion work, otherwise known as the triple shift (Dunscombe and Marsden 1995 cited in Chambers, 2012). It is important to consider these early perspectives as they give us a background on the family.
The book then proceeds on to describe the individualisation thesis in reference to changes in the family. Giddens (1992, 1998) and Beck (1992, 1994) describe individualisation as “the erosion of traditional values and the rise of individual agency”. In a postmodern society, what we define as family is now way more fluid as we now include friends as actual family. Chambers (2012).