Module: Family Life
Unit 1b: Family Structure
Unit 1b: Family and Social Structure
We can begin to explore sociological concepts of the structure of family life further by
developing some of the themes introduced in the first set of Teaching Notes (in particular,
the wide variety and divergence of family forms in human societies). In this respect, we
can concentrate more upon the various practices involved in the creation of family groups
rather than the question of whether or not there is a huge diversity in basic family
We can begin by noting two basic facts, one biological, the other social:
1. Firstly, as I have suggested, it is a biological fact that human infants are born relatively
helpless, insofar as if they are not nurtured by other members of society they will die.
In this respect, the need for nurture is a biological problem.
2. Secondly, it is a fact that human infants have to be taught social behaviour; that is, the
ability to take a normal part in society is something into which people have to be socialised.
In this respect, the need to ensure that the culture of a society is transmitted to its
future adults is a social problem.
If we put these two ideas together, it is not too surprising that we should come to the
conclusion that the easiest, simplest, solution to these twin "problems" is for the parent or
parents of a child to take responsibility for its upbringing. In this respect, we do not have
to appeal to vague (and empirically unproved) notions such as "human biogrammers", nor
do we have to appeal to equally vague concepts like "nature" or "instinct". At its most
basic, this relationship between parent(s) and child is usually the most individually and
collectively convenient (and it is important that the word "usually" is emphasised here).
When we start to think in these terms, a few of things are evident:
1. The idea that human behaviour is...