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in family literature

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

In the literature about "family," seven biases can be identified. It is useful to keep in mind the idea that sociology is about "what is" rather than "what should be."

  • The ageist bias is that the literature focuses mainly on adults, and often sees seniors and babies as passive rather than as active participants in family social dynamics.

  • The conservative bias is one in the literature which supports socially conservative policies, as represented by the religious right wing.  There is little tolerance for variations from norms described and supported by conservatives.

  • The heterosexual bias is one that implies that a family is based on marriage between one man and one woman; and that other arrangements are deviations (gay, lesbian, single, commune, bisexual).

  • The microstructural bias is a focus on internal family social interaction without considering the broad social forces which also affect family structure and dynamics.

  • The monolithic bias sees the concept of a standard, orthodox or traditional family as a measure against which all variations are seen as temporary deviations.  That orthodox family may be the nuclear conjugal family or the extended family.

  • The racist bias sees families as normal when in the dominant ethnic majority of society, usually white, Anglo Saxon, and that variations of ethnic minorities are seen as aberrations or deviations from the norm.

  • The sexist bias has two aspects to it; seeing feminine roles as concentrating on household chores, and masculine roles as making major decisions for the family.

Remember that the word "family" itself is not culturally universal, and that kinship principles may be arranged in various ways in various cultures and societies.  The word "family" derives from Latin, meaning domestic slaves and servants. Akan society, for example, has no word meaning "family" and the kin system is based on matriliny.  It has single words for household residents and matrilineage or matriclan, which we do not have.

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