The article by Stephanie Coontz describes the evolution of American families from kinship-based families to nuclear families. It also states that there is no universal definition of family and the system of family differs from place to place and time to time. In the past kinship groups were considered as a family but with the passage of time, the idea of an ideal family was confined to a married couple and their children. Level of interaction between members of a family also varies in different societies (Risman). In sixteen and seventeen century three types of family systems present on the land of USA, the native Americans who had close kinship ties, the Europeans who came from the era of development and industrialization and the Africans, who came to America as slaves and their social system was utterly destroyed. This article illuminates how these three family systems changed with time.
Family structure plays an imperative role in a social system. It shapes the role of men and women, and their level of interaction. Family system, laws, economic and political organization are all interdependent on one another. A slight change in any one of this results in a change in other social institutions. It can be explained in the light of this article, which managed to elucidate a delicate relationship between all social institutions. In 16th and 17th century Europeans came to settle in America and brought their own culture to this new land, the natives Indians also had their well-developed social structure. These two social systems came in collision with one another, which resulted in a change of family structure. For example, there was no concept of private ownership of land in native Indians, after colonization, the British made different laws and policies which changed their family structure as well as their political and social organization. When Americans brought slaves from Africa, the African people had to adjust their family structure according to the new environment.
The industrial revolution and American Revolution in 1800’s changed the whole hierarchical and male-controlled social order that was dominant in the 17th century (Risman). In the past women used to stay at home and look after their children and families, but now women started working outside their homes. Inequality caused by industrialization forced many people to sell their lands and move to cities. Selling of lands change the lives of African slaves because slaves were used as workers in fields. The result of the emancipation of blacks was that now African Americans were allowed to have families of their own. Equal rights to Africans also allowed them to get married among themselves of with whites. Another essential factor changing the social order of USA was a high influx of immigrants in 1900’s from all over the world. It created an acceptance of family diversity and intermarriage and other concepts like gay marriage.
Sociological imagination enables to understand a phenomenon in larger social context, its meanings and how individuals, with their daily experience, can relate to it (Mills). This article helped in accepting how the concepts of gender, sexuality, political system, labor, and nation are enunciated through history. A person belonging to any social background can relate to this article. It is not difficult to link your family system with the family structure present in the USA and the relationship of economic, religious and political organizations on family structure. The article helped me to understand diversity in cultures and the factors which are causing changes in the lives of American people. Although the changes since the 16th century have both positive and negative impacts, instead of finding an ideal family structure we should respond positively to any social change.
Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Risman, Barbara J. Families as They Really Are. WW Norton, 2010.