Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Family Study in Canada during Sociology's Shifts from RC to PC to DC

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Family Study in Canada during Sociology's Shifts from RC to PC to DC

Article excerpt

It might be argued that the sociological study of families has a longer history than that of any other feature of Canadian society. Shortly after sociology emerged in Europe in the mid-19th century a Quebecois family was the subject of sociological analysis (Gerin, 1964), and a lively interest in the family institution continued among some scholars in the province well into the 1960s. This fact seems unknown to most sociologists, who view the study of families as a recent alien import. Furthermore, family as a significant subfield within sociology since the 1960s persists well concealed from all but the numerous university and college students who sign up for courses and the many instructors who offer them. Family sociology is widely practised in most of Canada yet seldom acknowledged within the discipline itself, as has been noted by several sociologists (Wakil, 1970; Jones, 1977; Nett, 1992) over the past 20 years.

Why an area of Canadian life that figured importantly from the outset of the 100-year-old sociological enterprise in this country is generally overlooked today, when family issues loom so prominently in the popular mind and media, is a valid question in itself. A related consideration is the actual nature of the thirty-year-old field of Canadian family sociology; how has it developed and what is its relationship to both Canadian sociology as one parent and American family sociology - its precursor by at least 40 years(1) - as the other? A third matter is the future of the sub-field; will Canadian family sociology survive into the next century?

The Task at Hand

Canadian sociology, youthful as it is, has not been without its historians (see Nock, 1974; Hiller, 1980; Campbell, 1983; Brym and Fox, 1989; Juteau and Maheu, 1989; Carroll et al., 1992; among others). Nor have accounts been lacking of the progress of U.S. family sociology (Goode, 1959; Mogey, 1981; Klein, 1984; Adams, 1988; Broderick, 1988; Nye, 1988 - to cite only a few). The only history of the study of Canadian family as such, however, is a brief account in a family textbook (Nett, 1988: 5-16).

The story of Canadian family sociology is, as Hiller (1980: 263) has said about the history of sociology in general, "more than just the chronicling of a series of events or the exposition of ideas and theories of seminal figures." Nevertheless, in this paper I begin with a revision of my earlier account. Then I examine the academic and social contexts in which the study of Canadian families and Canadian family sociology emerged and continues to struggle. With regard to the sub-field itself my purpose is twofold: 1) to determine the historical influences that moulded family sociology at the moment of its birth in the 1960s, at the same time that the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association (CSAA) attained maturity as one of the Learned Societies; and 2) to characterize its further evolution during the next 25 years. In the final section of this paper I summarize the determinants in the destiny of this field of study, and speculate about its future as a sub-field within Canadian sociology.

The First 100 Years

Family as an Early Sociological Project in Quebec

The first recorded study using social science methods in Canada was undertaken in 1862 by Baron Gauldree-Boilleau, French consul at Quebec (cited in Gerin, 1964). A student of Le Play, Gauldree-Boilleau focussed on Isidore Gauthier's family for his research into the life of the peasants of St. Irenee, a parish in the Lower St. Lawrence River region.

Leon Gerin, the first Canadian-born scholar to study in Paris at the Ecole des Sciences Sociales, maintained the conservative Le Play tradition of social science. His life span (1863-1951) coincides almost exactly with the rise of family as a focus of sociological study in Quebec. Gerin (1898) described the structure of the French-Canadian rural family and showed how it satisfied the demands of social and economic conditions in Quebec. …

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