Family is the most basic unit of society but it is the most challenged institution nowadays when its function as a social institution is set aside to cater to individualistic and relativistic reasons. I say “set aside” because it comes after a choice or preference. (Remember that this is one of the characteristics of contemporary time. We are presented with so many alternatives that makes decision making more complex. Prioritization becomes a problem. We often choose or prefer what we want rather than what is really necessary. We often choose or prefer what is external or material over substance, over what is essential or valuable. Because there are a lot of alternatives, we sometimes just take it all and try it all, and then we choose, over the fear of not having what really matters.) People choose or prefer to do things their own way – individualistic and relativistic – other than what is institutionally “traditional” or “customary”; and so, we tend to set aside what is “traditional” or “customary”.
Family is a social institution. It means that persons or a group of persons, in their interaction and as they establish relationships, arbitrarily and conventionally, respond to needs of the time, respond to the context, and so develop social institutions. (Remember in sociology we were able to discuss the social institutions. There are generally eight of them and among them are the family, government, church, school, etc.) Considering this, social institutions develop in context. This is the first point that I want you to keep in mind. Social institutions, like family, develop in context.
The second point that I want you to keep in mind is social institutions are essentially developed, sustained and improved by a group. It is never an individual endeavour. Regardless of how particular groups of people respond to their context, be it in the desserts of the Sahara or the outbacks of Australia or the jungles of the Amazon or the highly industrialized cities of New York or Toronto or Iloilo, family is always essentially a group. (That is why when we think of “family,” we constitute “father” and “mother” and “child or children” into the concept. Take out the “child or children,” the concept is “couple”; take out either the “father” or “mother” as “parents”, we conceptualize “single parenthood”, not “family”. So, essentially and conceptually, “family” is always a group that constitutes the “parents” or the “mother” and the “father” and their “child or children”.) That is why the issue nowadays is that people choose or prefer what suits them personally as opposed to what the group or community chooses or prefers. Family, being the most basic unit, meaning basic group, in society, is in contention.
Because family is a group and with the issue I pointed out as with people’s individualistic or relativistic choices or preferences, prevalent issues like divorce that leads to broken families and blended families, teenage and/or single-parenthood, cohabitation, same sex marriage, surrogacy among others; take into account in the macro-level, population control or depopulation i.e. with RH Bill, all these are a cause-and/or-effect, if not an alternative, to the “traditional” or “customary” family organization (like the cause of broken families (effect) is divorce, legal separation or annulment (cause) just as blended families (effect) or single parenthood (effect); premarital sex or teenage pregnancy is the cause of teenage parenthood (effect) and also even single parenthood (effect); cohabitation, surrogacy, same sex marriage are alternatives to the “traditional” or “customary” institution of family and marriage.) Contemporary people are brought to the contention, a tug-of-war, a love-and-hate, between individualistic and/or relativistic choices or preferences versus “traditional” and “customary” functions of the institution of family. (So, man looks at two poles when deciding on something, especially as life determining realities like marriage and having a family. At one pole is the individualistic or relativistic choices or preferences and on the other, “traditional” or “customary” functions of the institution of family.)
So, as I proceed, I want you to think about this.
Are all the realities I have mentioned a while ago (divorce, legal separation and annulment, broken and blended families, teenage or single parenthood, cohabitation, surrogacy, even population control or depopulation, are all these realities) a response of contemporary man to our context now granting that these are going on now and by the likes of it, this is going to stay for a while or this is where we are going to just as what was “traditional” or “customary” was man of the past’s response to their own context – in the past? (I am asking this because we might consider the realities I mentioned above as “issues” because we are looking at it from the perspective of the “traditional” and “customary” which are the response of the people in the past to their own context in the past.) What do you think? Keep to mind these big question as we proceed.
Are all the realities I mentioned above a response to our context now granting that this is where we are now, granting that this is where we are going to just as what was “traditional” or “customary” was in their own time and space, in their own context – in the past? As I proceed, this is what I want you to think about.
With the time given to me by Tom, I’ll go over the terminologies to help you make sense of it in context somehow. Since these are mostly definitions I will not dwell on it so much. I leave it to you to take note and research on these terms and put to heart their sense; not even their definitions. Understand it and apply it in context. Next to that, I’ll discuss the purpose of family, why it was institutionalized by groups of people in the past. It did not just pop out of nowhere. People had to live together, interact and relate with one another, to be able to see a need for this kind of response to their context – the institution of family. And with all these discussed, I’ll leave it to you to critique how the institution of family is doing.
Most of the terminologies pertinent to family are related somehow to the institutions of kinship and marriage. I hope that these were already discussed already. Terminologies pertinent to family can be categorized into two: membership and location. These two categories serve as the structure from which the processes of interaction and relationships are established in the institution of family.
So as to membership, families are classified into nuclear and extended family structure.
The members of nuclear families include two generations: the parents and the child or children. Conceptually, this is the basic family structure we know of: there’s the mother and the father and the children. Without one member, we consider it not a “family” (As I have mentioned a while ago, when we think of “family,” we constitute “father” and “mother” and “child or children” into the concept. Take out the “child or children,” the concept is “couple”; take out either the “father” or “mother” as “parents”, we conceptualize “single parenthood”, not “family”. So, essentially and conceptually, “family” is always a group that constitutes the “parents” or the “mother” and the “father” and their “child or children”.) This family structure is autonomous and independent. They separated themselves from their kin or commonly to us we call this “relatives” not only in terms of location but also with the affairs of family life, most especially in terms of economics and livelihood. This family structure is also encouraged by industrialization. Come to think of it, in history, families separated themselves from their kin or “relatives” to go to cities. This led to urbanization. Right now, with the demand of work in developed or even developing country, families naturally prefer to become or stay nuclear. Technology i.e in the advancement in transportation allowed more mobility for families to stay nuclear.
Other than that, it should be noted that the initial social organization with the band system in nomadic societies was nuclear in structure. Take note of “initial” because as soon as they were able to manipulate their environment, when they were able to settle already and started farming, they grew in number. In short, they became extended. But out of necessity, because nomads transfer from one place to another for food, they should limit their membership to nuclear. Why? One, for easy mobility; and second, they naturally limit their number in proportion to the available resources.
Here, we can make sense that conceptually when we think of “family,” being the basic unit or group in society, we mean “nuclear”. Thus, nuclear family structure cut across the changes and developments in society, in the social organizations, in time. Such structure of family, being the basic unit, is the core of society that has survived the challenges in context since the time of the nomads to our time now.
The other one is extended family. The membership of this family structure is a consequence of blood or consanguinity and affinity. Consanguinally, or by blood, the membership does not only include two generations but includes generations before and after the basic nuclear family. By kinship terms, tt can be extended patrilineally or matrileneally. (You take notice of your extended family structure. Who are the members? Are they from your father or mother’s side, or both?) It is not too difficult for us to conceive of this since the Filipino family structure is still extended. We may be nuclear by location but our relationships, being closely-knit, is still dynamically extended.
Membership by affinity considers adoption, fostering, god-parenthood, even friendships. This can be considered “fictitious kinship” since without blood ties; the members create parent-child relationship.
If we trace it back in history, extended families started when people settled already because they can manipulate their environment in segmentary societies or commonly known as tribal or village societies. By necessity, families group together so that they can help each other. The principle of “more hands to help” was the guiding force in this social movement that led societies to grow to civilizations or states. In effect, extended families also became a mechanism for alliance, both economic and political. Nowadays, especially in the context of our Philippine society, extended families still function as such for the same reasons long, long time ago: economic and political. Other than that, with the extended family structure, culture is transmitted efficiently from one generation to the next.
Here, we can make sense that as we become industrialized, as we prefer to become “nuclear,” history and heritage, traditions and customs, lose meaning. We become detached from our past.
Now, by location, families are classified as patrilocal, matrilocal, avuncolocal, ambilocal or bilocal and neolocal. These classifications are a consequence to the kinship patterns practiced in the given society. Remember context. Generally, since I will not go into the details of these classifications, these classifications, in principle, are governed still by power and economics. In short, the location of the family, regardless of the membership, is dependent on who can provide and support more the members of the family.
Of course, patrilocal families live with or near the relatives of the father’s father. Matrilocal, on the other hand, live with or near the relatives of the mothers’s father. (Again, try to look at your own family structure when it comes to locality. Where do you live? Who lives with you? Is it your father’s family or your mother’s who lives with you?) If it is both, it is called ambilocal or bilocal. You have either your father’s or mother’s family, or even both. Avunculocal families are least prevalent. These are families who live with or near the father’s mother’s brothers. In short, you live with your uncles, the brothers of your mother. Neolocal families, because of economic circumstances, decide to or leave their extended family in order to establish a new residence, usually, in a city or where work is available. Now take note: whether it is nuclear or extended family structure, this classification looks at location. Not membership. Meaning, you can still be nuclear even if by location you are patrilocal or matrilocal. You are simply a nuclear family living “near” such and such. Of course, these classifications are further explained when we consider the institution of marriage i.e. how marriage is being transacted like with the bride-wealth, bride service, dowry or woman or reciprocal exchange. Again, you determine the locality to whoever is more abundant to support a starting up family. You can also look at these classifications by reason of political alliance or tribe or “clan” alliance.
Function of Families
As I said so, the institution of the family, being the basic unit, did not just pop out of nowhere. Its institution, such that it developed from the interaction and relationships of man long, long time ago, is “arbitrary” and “conventional”. “Arbitrary”, meaning, it was decided upon by the persons in the group; and it is “conventional” because, as it was arbitrarily decided upon, after some time, as to membership for instance or locality, or even bring it to the level of the institution of marriage, it was shared by everyone in the group and passed on from one generation to the next. As such, it became “arbitrary and conventional.” And when I say decided upon, I mean, it came about, not from a debate or a forum where the wise men convened at one time in history and declared such as such as institution. What I mean by decided upon was that it was accepted by experience. That is why it was not just at once. It took years or generations or interaction before it was institutionalized. Other than that, I want to point out that since it is arbitrary and conventional, whatever was decided upon in the past, with the context in mind, can be changed – for as long as it is decided upon.
Now, why did they decide on that? What is the institution of family for, stretch it back for instance to the very dawn of man? What was it for?
There are several theories that help us explain its function. And for the purpose of going through it, knowing major theories in social science, I’ll just get to the functions point by point. It should be noted that as I discuss in particular only family, we cannot do away principles of kinship and marriage, because family after all is the result of the function of kinship and marriage. In a sense, they come one after the other – which is now has become ideal rather than norm or standard. Like marriage first and then family is established and so kinship is sustained. Nowadays, it can be family first then nothing more or family first then marriage for kinship sake or kinship pressure. Nowadays, as it has become individualistic and relativistic, we can play around with the institutions in any order and we lose its functions in the first place.
So, what are the functions of family?
- Socialization. This is our first world. We are born into our families. And, we cannot choose our families. The family prepares the person to become a performing citizen of the world. Here we learn how to nurture nature. In short, culture is being transmitted to us initially by our parents. Here we learn the basics of what it is to be human. Here we learn survival skills. We learn life-skills. Mess this up as many families who do not understand this function of family deeply, that they are responsible to socialize the child properly to become citizens of the world, the child suffers, the society suffers in the long run. Everything starts in this institution. We make or break society in family by socialization.
- To compliment socialization, as human beings, families provide emotional and practical support. We learn how to build relationships. We learn how to love, care, become hurt or endure pain, or otherwise. At some point, with functions 1 and 2, psychoanalysts like Freud, Erikson and Jung have somehow explored the realities of these functions to a child and we have learned that, as we grow up in our families and out to the bigger world in school, in work, and so on, we develop poles from which determine our personalities. Our families are responsible for that. No wonder when we process our issues now, we cannot evade being asked to go back to our childhood, to our experiences in the family. So family should keep us sound in mind, heart and spirit. Again, mess it up, we mess up society as well.
- Family also provide social identity. Consider Tom and myself. If we come into terms with the families we were born into, somehow, if you look at us, our identity, grounded on our families, you will see that, being a Garin and him a Flores, we are “contrapartido”. If we exist in the middle ages, we may be at war like that of the Montague and the Capulet in the classic Romeo and Juliet story. Our families determine who we are in society. Bluntly said, even our social classes are determined by our family such as who is rich or poor. It also determines our successes in life. Come to think of it, as to how we were socialized, our choices in education and profession, the job opportunities, the social mobility we have, are all influenced by the families we are born into.
- To compliment somehow with function no. 3, social identity, and following through, how conflict theories would look at family, it also reinforces social inequality. It reinforces economic inequality and even patriarchy. Well, you can actually see that in our context, even in our history. No wonder that the prevailing fact of the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer still stands true. The good thing about our society though is that we have social mobility. By very, very hard work or luck, we can move up and down the social ladder. And by the rise of our middle class, relatively speaking, we are far better than societies who are socially determined or have become socially static, to Durkheim’s terms, which means, “not moving,” which means, rich or poor, that society will just die off. Look at the ancient civilizations. I’d rather have a society who has social inequality with people who are not deferent of the affairs of politics (true to what I said in the philosophical conference) and head on, as a family, as a community, struggle by very hard, hard, hard work, to make their lives better than a society who is rich with people who are abundant materially but scarce in everything else that makes them human. This issue I can discuss in another topic. So, family reinforces social inequality.
- As a consequence to marriage, family also regulates sexual activity and sexual reproduction. This is practically what makes us rational in the realm of sex. Take out the institutions of marriage and family we are merely animals who can have sex anywhere anytime. There are no kinship concepts of mother or father or children. Given that, we can have sex with our “supposed” mothers and fathers and children or siblings. Can you imagine that now that we are conscious of this reality? It happened. It can happen again. We call this taboo. But that’s the thin line there. Take out the institution, “setting aside” its functions; we will be just like our dogs and cats. So family it regulates sexual activity. It elevates the animalistic act, to reproduce, into something more. With family, sex is accorded a certain responsibility. For what? Responsibility to reproduce the next generation. It becomes a mechanism for humanity to live on. In its normalcy, with nothing artificial to use for an argument, sex reproduces offspring. That’s the reason why family regulates sex to be an expression of love, bound by marriage, to reproduce. The end of sex is reproduction, the offspring. That’s its normalcy. So again, family regulates sexual act and sexual reproduction.
- Other than the 5 functions I have already covered, under subjective interactionism, given that this is a theory that looks at specific interaction and relationship, this theory enumerates several functions of family.
- Shared understanding. Having a shared family history or background, shared experience at present, with anything and everything that the family encounters every single day, we learn a lot of things together. Even in our differences, we know how to compromise, to make things work, to prioritize and decide on things all for the good of the family. Much of our family values are shared understanding of what is right or wrong, what is good and bad.
- Styles of communication. Do I need to elaborate on this? As a means and effect of socialization, family pass on language in all its nuances: choice of words, style, flow, pace, loudness or softness, what else? And so, even how we communicate is replicated even outside of family.
- Social roles and Social expectations. Looking at the family as a unit, as a group, the social roles are mother, father, and children. Each of these has expectations to perform. With these expectations we create structures in society. This was clearer during the ancient social systems when it was clear cut: men hunt/fish and women and children gather grains. But as society develop to what we have now, expectations are not as black-and-white but the principles of having a breadwinner in the family, of having a moral guide and so on are still there but, I should point out, is not gender bound. In some sense, with social roles and expectations set in place in the institution of family, it helps man – when he enters the bigger community or society – to “see” these structures and with and within those structures know what to expect and how to perform – I can say, personally and professionally.
Now it should be noted with these 9 functions, regardless of the membership and location, the institution of family is still – necessary – institution to our society. It is the foundation of society. Inasmuch as it is being challenged now, we know for a fact that when something does not have a function, it ceases to exist. Does the institution of family still serve its function?
Now, given these terminologies, and all the more these functions, what do you think would happen if people nowadays will be successful in destroying the institution of the family – in any way legit or outrageous? Or, would you still hold a firm hope that they can never destroy the very foundation of our society? Why do you think so? I leave these questions along with the issue I pointed out at the beginning of this discussion.
I’d like to thank, Tom for this privilege. I am now allowing my students before to abuse me just so I can be sane here. I am still waiting for Jess to do so, to abuse me. So Tom, more? Well, I know that he won’t pay me for my thoughts but it would be a pleasure to read your thoughts. And by that, you know what I mean, Tom?
I miss saying this. I want all of you to write a reflection paper on this topic. You may reflect on the issues I presented in the Situationer before I gave the overview or answer randomly any of the rhetorical questions I asked in the discussion. Of course, granting that I am here in Canada, all your outputs will be sent to me by my good student and now my fellow teacher and your teacher through email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This one I miss saying, too. What would I always say if you I am asking you to write an essay most especially reflection papers? —– S.O.P. – It should be written in S.O.P.
No pressures. Well, it’s up to Tom if he will require you with this but it is always inspiring to see all of you become the best. We are a rare breed, brothers. So keep it up and shine.
“Hope lingers, life triumphs, love prevails.” (Amo Vitam) Love you all and miss you all!