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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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This is a very dense and intersting text that covers a lot of ground.

Dr Chris Jones
School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University
October 9, 2012

A comprehenensive text that makes essential reading for social work students

Dr Shepard Masocha
School of Social Policy, Sociology & Social Research, University of Kent
September 13, 2012

This text will prove useful to students from a range of disciplines on the BA Health & Community programme

Mrs Ges Teager
Education , University College Birmingham
May 15, 2012

I would recommend this book to students on introductory courses on families and relationships. It is a very clear introduction to those entirely new to this topic, and comprehensive enough to provide useful material to those with some familiarity.

Dr Roona Simpson
Department of Sociology, Glasgow University
May 2, 2012

brilliant book - this book is really helpful for students undertaking their practice placement

Ms Von Kelso
Arts and Social Sciences, Hull University
April 24, 2012

A useful text, helps the reader to develop understanding of similarities and differences in relation to the family across the world. The links between chapters and glossary are particularly helpful.

Mr Dave Mason
Please select your department, Please select your institution
April 2, 2012

Easy to read text, which debates current thinking surrounding modern families. Case studies and questions for the reader throughout the text help traslate theory into practice.

Mrs Justine Gallagher
Sch of Health,Community & Educ Studies, Northumbria University
March 12, 2012

This is a very useful book for people 1) needing to understand more about families and 2) who want to do research into families. It is an academic textbook as opposed to practitioner oriented handbook but I think could still be useful for trainee family therapists and for research into work with families.

The Relate Institute, The Relate Institute
February 16, 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

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