Academic journal article Family Relations

Families, History, and Social Change: Life-Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Academic journal article Family Relations

Families, History, and Social Change: Life-Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Article excerpt

Hareven, T. K. (1999). Families, History; and Social Change: Life-Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 334 pages. ISBN 0-8133-9079-6. Price: $28.00.

After decades of debate, family scholars still disagree on the nature and impact of family change. Some insist that the family is in danger of disintegration. Others assert that change is indicative of the dynamic adaptability of the family system. In Families, History, and Social Change: Life-Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives, Hareven helps to separate ideology from fact and achieves her stated goal of helping family scholars "to understand the family in various contexts of change, while allowing the levels of complexity to play themselves out at different points in historical time" (p. 3).

Hareven has divided her book into four parts. The first section, on continuity and change in family and kin relationships, details the growth of the field of family history and provides an example of how such family research is conducted. In the first chapter, Hareven explains the progression of family history by noting major research trends and illustrating these trends with selected studies conducted in the field over the past 3 decades. The examples include descriptions of the methods used in the research, the major findings of the study, and the impact of the research on future work. As a result, the chapter succeeds on two counts. First, the flow of research in this complex field is illustrated clearly. Second, the chapter serves as a strong starting point for family scholars in search of historical studies on a certain subject or using a certain method. In chapter 2, Hareven presents her research on French-Canadian immigrant textile workers employed by Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, New Hampshire, between 1880 and 1930. Her data are drawn from sources including letters, employee files and employment records, and vital records. Hareven shows how the availability of work influenced migration and how chain migration in turn influenced the structure of the work community through kinship work networks and training. The detail provided in this chapter is critical to the success of the rest of the book, as Hareven draws from these same data to make her case in later chapters. Chapter 3 illustrates how families employ collective yet flexible strategies to negotiate social and economic change.

In section 2, the impact of time and place on family relationships and processes is explored. Hareven shows how children's social networks have become increasingly stable and age-- homogenous over the course of the 20th century. Single-parent families and stepfamilies are not introducing new difficulties but reintroducing some of the complexities of kin networks that children once commonly experienced. Other chapters in this section explore the relationship between adult children and aged parents. Hareven notes that intergenerational kin support has historically provided a reciprocal benefit for adult children and aging parents. However, social and economic conditions affect who cares for aging parents and how strongly this care is expected. The timing of life course transitions is shown to be fluid over time and across cultures, and kin need is one factor that influences the life course trajectory. …

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