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The Anti-Social Family

Sensitive but uncompromising socialist-feminist critique of the nuclear family
Despite much talk of its decline, the nuclear family persists as a structure central to contemporary society, a fact to be lamented, according to the ideas of Michèle Barrett and Mary McIntosh. The Anti-social Family dissects the network of household, kinship and sexual relations that constitute the family form in advanced capitalist societies to show how they reinforce conditions of inequality. This classic work explores the personal and social needs that the family promises to meet but more often denies, and proposes moral and political practices for more egalitarian caring alternatives.

Reviews

  • “An extremely brave, and with the benefit of hindsight, what must appear to be a very daring critique of the family.”
  • “The Anti-Social Family decries the idealization of the family put forth by such thinkers as Christopher Lasch, perceiving the family as a haven in a hapless world, but inevitably corrupted by the onset of modern capitalism. The book in turn rethinks the family through a feminist perspective, and denounces it as a structure which “promises so much and delivers so little”. As Carol Smart explains, the book chronicles the authors’ disappointment with the family as not being particularly beneficial to women and children, and moreover as possibly being detrimental to a wider, structural, social level. McIntosh and Barrett, and Smart herself, eventually lean “towards collectivized ways of meeting human needs”

Blog

  • Reconceptualizing Family History

    "Frustrated by the fact that most texts on women treated 'the man's world' as the given and then simply asked where and how women fitted in," Stephanie Coontz writes, "I decided to undertake a survey of American gender roles: that was the starting point of the present book" — The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600–1900, published by Verso in 1988.


    Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, c. 1863-65. via Wikimedia Commons.

    As the focus of her research shifted from "woman's private sphere" to the family as a larger arena in which the public and private intersect, Coontz became more attentive to the diversity of household arrangements across time and space. "Stimulated by the burgeoning research into family history," she writes, "I began to look at the family as a culture's way of coordinating personal reproduction with social reproduction — as the socially sanctioned place where male and female reproductive activities condition and are conditioned by the other activities into which human beings enter as they perpetuate a particular kind of society, or try to construct a new one." 

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  • Reconceptualizing Family History (Part II)

    Continued from part I.


    Detail from Francis William Edmonds' The New Bonnet (1858).

    The Limits of Structural and Demographic Analysis

    Although it is important to compare demographic trends and household structures and seek their economic correlates, such procedures yield only limited information about the history of families. Olga Linares points out: “Qualitative changes in the meaning of interpersonal obligations may be as important in distinguishing among household types as more easily measured changes in size and form.” Indeed, as Barrington Moore Jr has commented, tabulating structural differences “necessarily involves ignoring all differences except the one being measured.” Changes in social relations and patterns are not “reducible to any quantitative differences; they are incommensurable. Yet it is precisely such differences that matter most to human beings.”47

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  • Women Strike! A reading list for International Women's Day



    "What is 'Women's Day'? Is it really necessary?" Alexandra Kollontai asked readers of the Russian journal Pravda a centenary ago. "On Women's Day," she wrote, "the organised demonstrate against their lack of rights."

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Other books by Michèle Barrett and Mary McIntosh

Other books of interest