In the wake of modernization and cultural change, existing marks of individuality and autonomy in family life-as well as in other fields of existence-have been strengthened (Giddens 1991, Beck 1992). This has made the family an exposed unit. International data reveal an increasing frequency of marital crises, as does Manuell Castells's (1997) overview of the ongoing transformation of modern societies. His suggestion of the potential end of patriarchalism encourages questions about the premises for such an outcome. In this chapter, family transformations will be traced from within the family unit
A common approach in current family research is to view the family as a playground for negotiations, as elaborated more thoroughly by Björnberg and Kollind in this volume. However, we are far from the optimistic notions on “symmetrical families” put forth by Young and Willmott (1973) and their prediction of increased equality between men and women. These expectations have been replaced by critical and sophisticated studies, extremely diverse in theoretical and methodological terms.
This chapter highlights the ongoing turmoil in family relationships looked at from within the family unit. My main objective is to construct a theoretical model that attempts to bridge the somewhat fragmented picture that has emerged from extant studies. The model aims at grasping the wholeness of family dynamics and interactions by focusing on what I call the inner core of the family and its components.
The theoretical model is matched against empirical data, which consist of qualitative interviews from two separate studies. The first set of interviews was with Swedish doctors, nurses, and assistant nurses and their spouses (approximately 50 couples), and the second set was with eight Icelandic families participating in an Icelandic pilot project on fathers on paternity leave (Einarsdóttir 1998). In both studies, wives and husbands were interviewed separately. For purposes of clarification, the overall context of the present discussion needs to be mentioned. My theoretical approach draws on empirical data from two Nordic countries, Sweden and Iceland. Notwithstanding internal differences in other respects, Nordic countries share common features as advanced, modernized welfare states, and gender relations are at a more equal level than in the rest of the world. This chapter, thus, traces tendencies that may be evolving somewhat differently in other parts of the world.
In the first part of the chapter, I present the theoretical background. It is based on a vision of how to overcome the unfruitful tension between studies that take an explicit stance in support of either men's or women's positions. Thereafter, I launch a theoretical model presenting a new classification of modern families. This discussion is followed by detailed clarifications by reference to empirical