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Understanding Families

Understanding Families
A Global Introduction

December 2011 | 264 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

Families are at the core of our society. Our experience of them affects many aspects of our everyday lives shaping our expectations and future plans.

Written by field experts this clear, engaging book adopts a global perspective to usefully examine how modern families can be explored and understood. Packed with critical pedagogy, including case-studies, think points, key words and a glossary, it guides students through topics such as relationships, sexualities and paid and unpaid work.

The book also:

  • Applies key social theories from classical sociological theory and contemporary analysis
  • Examines best practice for researching families and family life
  • Explores the role of government policies and practices

This comprehensive introduction to the study of families and relationships is a timely resource for students and lecturers working across the social sciences.

Structures, Processes and Strategies

Family or Families?

Families in History

The Families We Live With, The Families We Live By

The Contents of the Book


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Families and Relationships

Families: A Constant State of Flux

Continuities and Presumptions

Structures: Identifying and Talking About Families

Defining Families 1: Common Characteristics

Defining Families 2: Values, Memories and Spaces and Places

Statistical Trends and Family Structures

Processes: Families, Kinship and Activities

Global Families

Topic 1. The Impact of Welfare Regimes on Families: France, the Russian Federation, East and West Germany

Topic 2: Ideal and Actual Families in Asia


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Explaining Families

Sociological Explanations: Premise and Origins

Ideology and Theory: What Is This Thing 'the Family'?

Sociological Theory

Ties that Bind: Making Sense of Structures

Families as a Framework: Parsons

Socialization: Merton

Actors and Actions: Theories of Interaction

Interactions: Goffman

Structures and Practices: Giddens and Wallace

Theories of Conflict

The 'Lifeworld' of Families: Habermas

Women, Men, Gender: Feminist Perspectives

Feminist and Gender: Perspectives on Families

Global Dimensions

Contemporary Voices on Intimacy


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Researching Families

Research Methods

Survey Research

Writing About People and Families: Ethnographic Research Methods

Secondary Analysis of Research Studies

Historical Research on Families

Approaches to the History of the Family

Better Times for Families?

Documenting Change in Family Processes

Family and Sex 1900-2000

Private Troubles and Public Issues

Researching Change and Continuity

Solo Living

Talking About Sex

Single Parenting


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Politics, Policies and Practices


Policies and Families' Forms and Functions

Family Policy - New Kid on the Block?

How do Policies Deliver Benefits to Families?

Policy Approaches to Different Family Forms

Evidence-Based Policy

Families in Action

Families and Social Cohesion

Families and Social Breakdown

Beyond Stereotypes

Families and the Welfare State

The Relationship Between Politics and Policies

Services and Practices

Types of Services


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Relationships and Sexualities

Lets Get Together: Marriage, Cohabitation

Universality of Marriage and Partnering

Definition of Partnering - How do People Partner?

Diversity in Partnering Arrangements


Same-Sex Couples and Families

Children Raised by Same-Sex Couples

Moving Apart: Breakdown and Divorce

Why do Relationships Break Down?

What Changes After Divorce and What Stays the Same?

Being Together and Living Apart: Solo Living, Friendships and Social Networks

'Coupleness' Outside of Cohabitation

Why else do people Live Alone?

Beyond the Family - Friendships

Social Networks

Communities and Neighbourhoods

The Effects of Neighbourhoods and Communities on Families

Sexualized Societies

Enduring Relationships: Generating Histories

Enduring Intimacy


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Families and Work

Defining and Explaining Work

Underemployment and Unemployment

Boundaries: Paid and Unpaid Work

The Global Context

Survival and Longevity: The Challenge to Work

Decent Work and Rural Employment

Relationships and Resources

Acquiring and Allocating Resources

Gender and Resources

Unpaid Work

Gender Roles and Unpaid Work

Quantifying and Valuing Unpaid Work

Vital but Subordinate

Family Practices and Work

Policy, Politics and Families

Explaining Preferences and Choices

Migrant Domestic Workers


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Families into the Future

Trends and Futures

Working Patterns, Gender and Care

Demography: Fertility, Life Expectancy and Care

Relationship Formation

The Impact of Technologies on Families

Commonalities and Differences across the Globe

Beliefs and Behaviours

Sustainable Families?

The Importance of Childcare

Shaping Politics and Policy

Addressing Family Fragility

Same-Sex Relationships and Assisted Reproduction


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A reasonable text that helps to contextualise the changing nature of famlies

Neill Redmond
Primary and Intermmediate Care, King's College London
November 27, 2013

Good background reading for the module I am teaching in Children and Families

Ms Debbie Amas
Family and Community Studies (Peterborough), Anglia Ruskin University
August 16, 2013

I enjoyed the layout of this book and the indicators to prompt students to cross reference different issues. This is useful for first year UG students to encourage more evaluation and reflection in their work. Good overall coverage of the main issues (particularly the inclusion of feminist theory and links to research and policy. I would have liked to see the section on public/ private issues clearly indicate the issuesa around domestic violence and abuse and child abuse relating to the taboo still here and myths around strangers rather than familial abuse still being pushed through the media etc..

Miss Debbie Thackray
Social Work (Didsbury), Manchester Metropolitan University
July 23, 2013

This is an excellent book that provides up-to-date information and analysis of families in a global context. It explores topics that are very relevant to a wide range of students interested in working with children and families within theoretical frameworks.

Ms Andrea Collins
Faculty of Education, University of St Mark & St John
June 18, 2013

This book is a very comprehensive overview of many of the issues relating to families. It covers research into families, family policy and wider political ideologies that impact upon the family. Relationships within families is explored and work life balance. It is a very reader friendly volume also.

Dr Katie Cagney
Department of Applied Arts, Waterford Institute of Technology
April 20, 2013

In a swiftly changing world where disadvantaged families are increasingly finding services difficult to access, this book provides a very accessible text that facilitates increased understanding of the issues families face and the contexts in which we are working.

Ms Angela Hilton
School of Education, Wolverhampton University
April 7, 2013

A well constructed book that encourages reflective learning. I particularly liked chapter 3 that placed research methods in the context of families which most students will be able to relate to.

Rosemary Willers
School of Health, Science and Social Care, University Campus Suffolk
February 28, 2013

A book that is particularly relevant for those practitioners both in health and social care who work with families in a supportive and caring capacity

Ms Mary Scott
Dept Health & So, Glasgow Caledonian University
February 13, 2013

This book is very useful and provides a good introduction to the focus of working with families and communities. I was pleased that it took an international perspective as this will also be useful for student who are studying comparative education in their final year.
The library has bought copies of the text and it is referenced throughout the course

Ms Louise Gilbert
Early Childhood Studies, University of Gloucestershire
November 18, 2012

Ch 7 Families into the Future is useful supplementary reading to help students anticipate the effects of changes in families.

Mr Martin Harmer
Please select your department, Please select your institution
October 24, 2012

Sample Materials & Chapters


Linda McKie

Professor Linda McKie is Head of School for Applied Social Sciences (SASS) at Durham University.  More About Author

Samantha Callan

Dr Samantha Callan is recognised as a research and policy expert in the fields of family relationships, mental health and the early years. She is currently Associate Director for Families and Mental Health at the Centre for Social Justice, for whom she has chaired four major social policy reviews. She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at Edinburgh University's Centre for Research in Families and Relationships (CRFR). More About Author

For instructors

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