Conceptualizing the Family: Introduction
Family life poses some of the most difficult and disputed questions taken up in contemporary social thought and politics. Often these are issues about which major thinkers of the past have little to offer us: issues about power relations in the family, about the impact of public agencies and mass culture on family life, political issues about school curricula, about biological engineering, and so on. As these examples suggest, if earlier theorists did not speak to our questions about family, this is not—entirely—a matter of their having rested, so to speak, on patriarchal privilege. Nor is it because they ignored family issues: Plato, Rousseau, Hegel all gave thought to questions about family and household as part of their larger considerations of rational social life. But it is true that family was not a matter of primary concern for them: they did not see it as an end in itself. Its importance was more in preparing individuals for participation in the political and cultural spheres in which genuine human experience and achievement were thought to be possible. Reference to outstanding questions of our day suggests that it is no longer so easy to separate family (and economic) concerns from political and cultural questions. Issues raised by the women’s movement are evidence of this, but so are questions of education, welfare, healthcare, and housing.
KeywordsFamily Life Political Theory Family Form Artificial Insemination Family Ideal
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