Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Configurations: A Structural Approach to Family Diversity

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Configurations: A Structural Approach to Family Diversity

Article excerpt

Eric D. Widmer. FAMILY CONFIGURATIONS: A STRUCTURAL APPROACH TO FAMILY DIVERSITY. Ashgate Publishing Limited, Burlington, VT., 167 pgs. ISBN 978-0-7546-7679 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-7546-9350-5 (ebook), 2010. $99.95.

As one who lived through numerous "structural" analyses of racial-ethnic families, where they were always "deviant" to a supposedly "normal" nuclear European family pattern, when I saw the title of this book I expected to hear more on such a theme. However, this book is an oppositional set of considerations to the nuclear model and an interesting approach for understanding how family life continues to maintain its social, institutional place in late/post modernity.

Eric D. Widmer, of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, gives us a small volume, only 145 pages of text plus extensive bibliography and index, based on 1998 and 2010 research conducted in the United States and Switzerland, but is not a comparative work. He focuses on demonstrating that "configuration perspective" data is useful for explaining family relations and functioning, and begins with an excellent genealogical summation of the evolution of configuration perspective. He thoroughly understands that current "prominent scholars" doubt the survival of a functional stable model for family, as institutional arrangement, and finds family research and scholarship, particularly sociologist in North America, as having reached a pessimistic point where referring to "the family" is at best confusing, at worst a gross scientific misconception filled with normative biases sentimentally longing for the outmoded nuclear family. Widmer is not so pessimistic and posits that configuration perspective asserts the diversity of family relationships yet leaves allows for long-term commitments that function as support and social integration but are still central in contemporaiy societies.

In spite of tremendous late-modernity changes away from long-term commitments of nuclear family relations, Widmer and configuration perspective see the continuation of the family as no concept other carries the idea of strong intimate interdependencies, negative and positive, in some respects chosen, in other respects enforced, with significant consequences in the long run. …

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