Family sociology

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The family sociology is a Special Sociology , the families from a sociological perspective investigated.

Hill and Kopp define family as a technical term as a long-term relationship between man and woman with joint household management and at least one own (or adopted) child. That is the classic definition of the nuclear family . Josef Brüderl , on the other hand, suggests a broader definition in the sense of a “sociology of private life forms”.

Subject area and methods

The subject area of ​​family sociology, which is becoming more and more differentiated, includes: a. Choice of partner, marriage and fertility behavior, family forms, gender relations in the family, parent-child and intergenerational relationships in later phases of the family, family relationships, intra-family communication, family socialization, role models and division of labor, everyday organization, family budget, divorce and the social effects of demographic Change and family law regulation on private ways of life.

The methods of family sociology include secondary analyzes of official statistics, quantitative and qualitative empirical studies and international comparisons. In addition to socio-structural characteristics, subjective and cultural influencing factors are increasingly analyzed. Biographical methods and longitudinal studies are often used.



In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle already considered kinship, partnership and friendship as well as love and exchange relationships in partnerships, which can be viewed as ethical precursors of family sociological investigations.

Until the Age of Enlightenment, the function of the family seemed largely limited to the production of descendants and the continuation of names and property. With the onset of industrialization, growing fears of overpopulation led to concern about fertility behavior . Thomas Robert Malthus advocated abstinence and late marriage in order to get a grip on population growth, but also for better education as a tool to reduce the birth rate.

In the second half of the 19th century, as the knowledge of evolutionary theory spread, interest in the origin and development of the family increased. Johann Jakob Bachofen questioned the universality of patriarchy . Karl Marx emphasized the role of the family in the reproduction of labor and examined the consequences of the separation of production and reproductive spheres, which were largely united under pre-industrial conditions.

Conservative and social reform roots of family sociology

Fréderic Le Play , who is often referred to as the first family sociologist, developed, under the influence of Catholic social teaching, the monographic method for researching the situation of families in France, in which the research object is not the individual but the (working) family or household was. The small family , however, seemed to him to be a product of decay, the patriarchal landed family was set by him as an absolute family type. In Germany, Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl pursued a similar goal: Both authors share a dichotomous gender image based on natural law. Émile Durkheim examines the tendency towards the "contraction" of the family towards an increasingly narrow circle. He considers this to be a phenomenon of the upper classes, while the lower classes usually have always lived in small families or "spouses" ( famille conjugale ).

Towards the end of the 19th century, the consequences of the collision between industrialism and family structures came to the fore: the fate of children - having a large number of children initially appeared as a risk factor, as a cause for the lower classes to slide into crime and pauperism, then again as a patriotic duty - later the increasing female employment and the emancipation of women.

Structural, comparative and functionalist family sociology

Before the First World War and in the 1920s, comparative, structurally oriented family research developed within cultural anthropology and ethnology . Kinship systems were systematically compared and increasingly identified as social constructs. So was Bronislaw Malinowski tribal societies who knew no biological paternity or ignored.

After the First World War, pessimistic assessments of the chances of maintaining marriage and the family as institutions predominated in Europe and the USA. Robert MacIver pointed to the loss of function of the (small) family, but took the position that these functions could be better taken over by other organizations in society, so that the family would be relieved and their emotional life could intensify. In the 1940s, however, René König pointed out the resulting tendency to overstrain family intimacy.

In the German post-war period, the aspect of the weakening of the kinship systems due to the structural isolation of the nuclear family and the role of women in employment were in the foreground of family-sociological studies. In the USA, family sociology developed particularly rapidly in the course of the accelerated social change in the 1950s and 1960s; in the case of authors influenced by psychoanalysis , such as Erik H. Erikson and Talcott Parsons , the issues of socialization and identification in the family and the family mechanisms of internalization of norms came to the fore. In this way, Parsons arrives at general sociologically relevant statements about the importance of family socialization for the foundation of the socio-cultural person and the survival of the family. The nuclear family is the simplest form of a social system; however, this makes the minimum definition an ideal-type model that can hinder empirical research. In this way, family sociology was also closely linked with small group research.

In 1953, Helmut Schelsky registered that the family was falling behind this rapid social change. This backwardness endangers the stability of the family and requires socio-political measures to adapt the family to modern society.

In the 1960s and 1970s Dieter Claessens put the family once again in a larger cultural-anthropological analysis context. In the period that followed, the institutionalist analysis of the legal and domination relationships in the family was increasingly neglected. The now seemingly completely free choice of partner still results in numerous decision-making processes that influence family relationships, property relationships, access to the labor market and professional careers.

Since the 1980s, the microsociological approach to the family as a specific ( interaction ) system in connection with increasingly specialized studies has replaced the analysis of the family in the context of social and economic (macro-sociological) change. For Niklas Luhmann , the family's communication system is almost at the mercy of the psychological systems of its members, which leads to "uninhibited communication" - a communication that allows everything to be discussed at any time without being structured and tamed by codes and programs can be. For Luhmann, unlike Franz-Xaver Kaufmann, the entirety of families is not a system in the sense of one of the great social functional systems.

Individualization of society and sociology of private forms of life

The modern individualism that began in the Renaissance and was radicalized in post-Fordism, with its emphasis on the autonomy of the individual and individual options at the expense of social ties, goes much further with the deconstruction of the concept of family . The rigorous de-traditionalization of all life contexts and the emergence of new private life and same-sex partnership forms make the future of a special family sociology appear questionable; What is more likely to be expected is a reduction in the complex differentiation of “hyphenated sociologies”. As a result of the increase in migration, an increased need for intercultural, comparative family and youth research would be expected, which has not yet been fully satisfied, as research in this area is often reduced to surveys. These, of course, point to important research desiderata: For migrant families from southern Europe, the family primarily has an emotional function; For Turkish migrants, on the other hand, the economic function of the family is still important; it represents important social capital . The new private lifestyles and their implications (e.g. willful childlessness, long-distance relationships, decreasing household sizes, risk of poverty among single parents) have so far remained the subject of descriptive studies with low theoretical demands, which are also based on low case numbers. The simplified image of a progressively individualizing and pluralizing society obscures z. B. the look at new standardizations such as the typical illegitimate cohabitation of young people. René König previously recommended that the theory be historized in family sociology, in order to free their view of reality and enable them to perceive the diversity of familial forms of life, which can best be described using the term family constellations taken from family psychology.

With regard to the pluralization of family and life forms, a distinction is now made between a pluralization of the social structure (e.g. polarization between childless communities and families with children) and a pluralization of life forms over time (e.g. temporal shift of important life phases, frequency of the Change of life forms).

There is also a high need for empirical research from the need to monitor the effectiveness of family policy programs. But institutional problems such as the legal legitimation of family structures also arise again in the face of blended families or same-sex partnerships.

See also


  • Paul Bernhard Hill, Johannes Kopp: Family sociology: Basics and theoretical perspectives. Springer, 2013.
  • Johannes Huinink, Dirk Konietzka: Family sociology : An introduction. Campus Verlag, 2007.
  • Johannes Huinink: To determine the position of the empirical family sociology. In: Zeitschrift für Familienforschung - Journal of Family Research. Volume 18, No. 2, 2006, pp. 212-252.
  • René König : Sociology of the Family. In: René König (Ed.): Handbook for empirical social research. Volume 7: Family and Age. Stuttgart 1976.
  • Manfred Hermanns and Barbara Hille: family models in transition. Normative specifications and self-concepts of parents and young people (= materials for the Seventh Youth Report. Volume 3). Verlag Deutsches Jugendinstitut, Munich 1987, 258 pages.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paul Hill, Johannes Kopp 2013.
  2. Josef Brüderl: Lecture script family sociology ( Memento from May 27, 2016 in the Internet Archive ), University of Mannheim, 2008.
  3. Annette Eva Fasang, Johannes Huinink, Matthias Pollmann-Schult: Current developments in German family sociology : Theories, data, methods. In: Journal of Family Research. H. 1, 2016, pp. 112-143.
  4. VIII. Book, 14th chapter a. a.
  5. Thomas Robert Malthus: The population law. dtv, Munich 1977 (first 1798).
  6. ^ E.g. Lewis Henry Morgan : Ancient Society, Or: Researches in the lines of human progress from savagery through barbarism to civilization (first 1877); Friedrich Engels : The origin of the family, private property and the state (first 1884).
  7. August Bebel : The woman and socialism. 6th edition. Berlin 1973 (first Zurich 1879), second section.
  8. König 1976, pp. 1-14.
  9. Helmut Schelsky: Changes in the German Family in the Present. 5th edition. Stuttgart 1967 (first 1953).
  10. See the articles in Günter Burkart: Future of the Family: Forecasts and Scenarios. (= Journal for Family Research. Special issue 2009).
  11. Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth (Ed.): Marriage, Family, Values ​​- Migrants in Germany. Monitor Family Research, Issue 24, Berlin 2011 (PDF) .
  12. Pluralization of lifestyles: more diversity and smaller households. Federal Agency for Civic Education , May 31, 2012. See also the reader by Laszlo Vaskovics (Hrsg.): Familie. Sociology of familial worlds. (= Sociological Review. Special 3), Oldenburg 1994.
  13. Huinink 2006, p. 218.
  14. René König: Topic change in the current sociology of the family. In: Bernhard Schnyder (Ed.): Family - Challenge of the Future. Freiburg (Switzerland) 1982, pp. 5-21.
  15. J. Brüderl, T. Klein: The pluralization of partnership-based forms of life in West Germany. 1960-2000. In: W. Bien, J. Marbach (Ed.): Partnership and starting a family. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2003, pp. 189-217.