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Understanding Families
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Understanding Families
A Global Introduction



December 2011 | 264 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

Families are at the core of our society. Our experience of them affects many aspects of our everyday lives shaping our expectations and future plans.

Written by field experts this clear, engaging book adopts a global perspective to usefully examine how modern families can be explored and understood. Packed with critical pedagogy, including case-studies, think points, key words and a glossary, it guides students through topics such as relationships, sexualities and paid and unpaid work.

The book also:

  • Applies key social theories from classical sociological theory and contemporary analysis
  • Examines best practice for researching families and family life
  • Explores the role of government policies and practices

This comprehensive introduction to the study of families and relationships is a timely resource for students and lecturers working across the social sciences.


 
Introduction
Structures, Processes and Strategies  
Family or Families?  
Families in History  
The Families We Live With, The Families We Live By  
The Contents of the Book  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
PART ONE: INTRODUCING FAMILIES
 
Families and Relationships
Introduction  
Families: A Constant State of Flux  
Continuities and Presumptions  
Structures: Identifying and Talking About Families  
Defining Families 1: Common Characteristics  
Defining Families 2: Values, Memories and Spaces and Places  
Statistical Trends and Family Structures  
Processes: Families, Kinship and Activities  
Global Families  
Topic 1. The Impact of Welfare Regimes on Families: France, the Russian Federation, East and West Germany  
Topic 2: Ideal and Actual Families in Asia  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
Explaining Families
Introduction  
Sociological Explanations: Premise and Origins  
Ideology and Theory: What Is This Thing 'the Family'?  
Sociological Theory  
Ties that Bind: Making Sense of Structures  
Families as a Framework: Parsons  
Socialization: Merton  
Actors and Actions: Theories of Interaction  
Interactions: Goffman  
Structures and Practices: Giddens and Wallace  
Theories of Conflict  
The 'Lifeworld' of Families: Habermas  
Women, Men, Gender: Feminist Perspectives  
Feminist and Gender: Perspectives on Families  
Global Dimensions  
Contemporary Voices on Intimacy  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
PART TWO: RESEARCH AND POLICY
 
Researching Families
Introduction  
Research Methods  
Survey Research  
Writing About People and Families: Ethnographic Research Methods  
Secondary Analysis of Research Studies  
Historical Research on Families  
Approaches to the History of the Family  
Better Times for Families?  
Documenting Change in Family Processes  
Family and Sex 1900-2000  
Private Troubles and Public Issues  
Researching Change and Continuity  
Solo Living  
Talking About Sex  
Single Parenting  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
Politics, Policies and Practices
Introduction  
Definitions  
Policies and Families' Forms and Functions  
Family Policy - New Kid on the Block?  
How do Policies Deliver Benefits to Families?  
Policy Approaches to Different Family Forms  
Evidence-Based Policy  
Families in Action  
Families and Social Cohesion  
Families and Social Breakdown  
Beyond Stereotypes  
Families and the Welfare State  
The Relationship Between Politics and Policies  
Services and Practices  
Types of Services  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
PART THREE: FAMILIES IN ACTION
 
Relationships and Sexualities
Introduction  
Lets Get Together: Marriage, Cohabitation  
Universality of Marriage and Partnering  
Definition of Partnering - How do People Partner?  
Diversity in Partnering Arrangements  
Cohabitation  
Same-Sex Couples and Families  
Children Raised by Same-Sex Couples  
Moving Apart: Breakdown and Divorce  
Why do Relationships Break Down?  
What Changes After Divorce and What Stays the Same?  
Being Together and Living Apart: Solo Living, Friendships and Social Networks  
'Coupleness' Outside of Cohabitation  
Why else do people Live Alone?  
Beyond the Family - Friendships  
Social Networks  
Communities and Neighbourhoods  
The Effects of Neighbourhoods and Communities on Families  
Sexualized Societies  
Enduring Relationships: Generating Histories  
Enduring Intimacy  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
Families and Work
Introduction  
Defining and Explaining Work  
Underemployment and Unemployment  
Boundaries: Paid and Unpaid Work  
The Global Context  
Survival and Longevity: The Challenge to Work  
Decent Work and Rural Employment  
Relationships and Resources  
Acquiring and Allocating Resources  
Gender and Resources  
Unpaid Work  
Gender Roles and Unpaid Work  
Quantifying and Valuing Unpaid Work  
Vital but Subordinate  
Family Practices and Work  
Policy, Politics and Families  
Explaining Preferences and Choices  
Migrant Domestic Workers  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
PART FOUR: CONCLUSIONS
 
Families into the Future
Introduction  
Trends and Futures  
Working Patterns, Gender and Care  
Demography: Fertility, Life Expectancy and Care  
Relationship Formation  
The Impact of Technologies on Families  
Commonalities and Differences across the Globe  
Beliefs and Behaviours  
Sustainable Families?  
The Importance of Childcare  
Shaping Politics and Policy  
Addressing Family Fragility  
Same-Sex Relationships and Assisted Reproduction  
Summary  
Explore Further  
 
Glossary

This excellent, innovative, comprehensive and easy to read text should be essential reading for everyone keen to understand families across the globe. It addresses key questions, carefully blends policy concerns, research issues and theoretical debates, points to further reading and includes a very helpful glossary. It will make an outstanding contribution to family studies and is highly recommended
Janet Walker
Emeritus Professor, Newcastle University


This is a clearly written, well organized, and highly digestible overview of the sociology of the family. It covers major themes and issues, including important changes over time in behavior as well as the ideas used to understand patterns of behavior and structure. The authors manage to include a strong international perspective while highlighting many specific examples and trends in the UK and across Europe. What I appreciate so much about this book is that it is to the point and not overburdened by a tedious amount of detail or nuances of the type that can so easily mire and demoralize readers who are trying to capture the essential features in the study of the family. I highly recommend this book for serious students who want to efficiently capture the gist of this thing called family
Scott M. Stanley
Research Professor and Co Director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies, University of Denver, USA


I don't know how often I've wished for an introductory text on family life which encompassed critical contemporary sociological thinking alongside the basic information students need, and have only found fossilised thinking on a stodgy subject. But now all that has changed. McKie and Callan have achieved what I thought was almost impossible in Understanding Families; this is a textbook which provides unrivalled foundations for a critical understanding of contemporary families and relationships
Carol Smart
Professor of Sociology, The Morgan Centre, University of Manchester



An excellent text in every respect, exploring all aspects of family life. The book offers a contemporary information, covering all patterns including employment, family structure and changing government policy.
A key strength of this text is that it is focused on changing family patterns within the UK, which is overlooked with many major texts.
The course is ideal for students of all levels, particularly students at level 3 and undergraduate.
In summary, an essential text for any course exploring aspects of sociology of the family.

Mr Gavin Hatton
Sociology , Merthyr Tydfil College
November 10, 2016

This is a clear and comprehensive to contemporary families that fits perfectly with our module on 'The Family and the Law'.

Dr Kaz Stuart
Health, Med Sci & Soc Care (Lancaster), University of Cumbria
August 22, 2016

This book will be really useful for students who are studying on a module called 'understanding families and communities'.

Dr Michael Richards
Applied Health and Social Care , Edge Hill University
May 7, 2016

This book is highly recommended for all A Level or undergraduate course exploring the family.

It covers all the major areas of the family; offering a 'global' exploration, with regular focus on the patterns of UK families. The book provides a basic overview of the family, as well as providing analysis on work, social policy and the future of families. It offers the latest up-to-date information, discussing the latest emerging social and family issues in gay marriage and adoption.

The book offers easy reading, with detailed explanation. Which makes it ideal for A Level or first year undergraduate students.

I would highly recommend this book, as it provides all the required information, with commentary suitable for all students, not just the most able.

Mr Gavin Hatton
Sociology , St David's College
October 2, 2015

This book is excellent for students studying 'the family' I have recommended my students buy this book as it gives them a very strong foundation for subsequent study. I particularly like the lay out of this book, it provides the students with questions to check their understanding. It makes clear links to the other chapters where there may be further explanation / expansion. I particularly find it really useful to have a summary at the end of each chapter and recommendations for further reading.

Pat Hosgood
Faculty of Health Ormskirk, Edge Hill University
November 12, 2014

This is an excellent and highly accessible introduction to family studies, bringing together concepts, policies and trends in such a clear and comprehensive manner. Its presentation of relevant theory is unparalleled in its breadth while maintaining clarity and focus. Its international approach gives this book universal relevance, and its chapter on researching families is particularly valuable for social policy graduates planning their dissertation in this field. The glossary is also very useful.

Dr Sue Vella
Social Policy & Social Work , Univ. of Malta
July 10, 2014

We have adopted this book for our new module Connected Lives, as it provides students with a good gounding in the current theoretical, research, and policy issues and developments, which are needed to understand families in contemporary society.

Dr Gaynor Bagnall
English, Sociology, Politics & History, Salford University
March 21, 2014

A useful introduction to the area of Family Studies. Am recommending as supplemental as the module itself is a policy module and this is more sociologically orientated, but it does help to provide context to the policies we are examining.

Ms Hazel O brien
Department of Applied Arts, Waterford Institute of Technology
February 11, 2014

A reasonable text that helps to contextualise the changing nature of famlies

Neill Redmond
Primary and Intermmediate Care, King's College London
November 27, 2013

Sample Materials & Chapters

Introduction


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