Annotations: Collier, Jane F., Michelle Z. Rosaldo, and Sylvia Yanagisako. 1982. Is There a Family?: New Anthropological Views

Collier, Jane F., Michelle Z. Rosaldo, and Sylvia Yanagisako. 1982. Is There a Family?: New Anthropological Views. In, Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions. B. Thorne and M. Yalom, ed. Pp. 25-39. Longman: New York.

The authors refute Malinowski’s universalizing argument that the family can be characterized by its function of nurturing children. Using as an example his study of Australian aborigines, Malinowski had argued that the family: 1) is a bounded set of people who recognize and distinguish themselves from other like groups; 2) is associated with a physical space like a hearth and home, and; 3) operates within particular set of emotions (i.e. love). New researches have contested these claims. The Zinazantecos of southern Mexico identify the “house” as their social unit, rather than the unit of parents and children. Rather than this functionalist view of the family, the authors suggest social scientists to look to the 19th century thinkers who were interested in comparative and evolutionary accounts of the family, and who saw the family as a “moral precondition for the the triumph of, and the victim of developing capitalist society” (37). In contrast to the preoccupation with the study of kinship in terms of biological “needs” and biologically given ties, the authors suggest that the 19th century thinkers’ concern to characterize difference and change will help social scientists rethink the family today (39). The authors suggest that the 19th century writers were correct to suggest that the family in the modern sense, is “a unit-bounded, biologically as well as legally defined, associated with property, self-sufficiency, with affect and space ‘inside’ the home”, and that it is “something that emerges…in complex state-governed forms” (39). The particular “morality” practices of families are rooted in a set of processes that link intimate human experiences and bonds to pubic politics (41). The authors suggest that the rethinking of the family must be seen as ideological, and as a process created out of people’s and state’s actions. It is through this perspective that social scientists will understand modern-day social policies, such as age and wage inequalities, which affect the families of today. The concepts of familial nurturance and the ideal family, the authors suggest, are “equally creations of the world we know today” (46).


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