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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

14 - Differences and universals in families across cultures


Family has become an increasingly important subject of study in cross-cultural and cultural/indigenous psychology during the past few decades. Two themes have characterised the study of family historically, family change and diversity of family structure and function across cultures. The first is family change. The relationship of family change to social change initially studied by Le Play (1855, 1871) has been the dominant theme of family sociology for almost two centuries, that is, social change resulted in the breakdown of the agricultural extended family of post-monarchical France to the nuclear family system. Talcott Parsons (1943, 1949, 1965) developed perhaps the most influential theory of family change, structuralism-functionalism, in the twentieth century. Society was viewed in a structural-functional perspective as an organism that strives to resist change and to maintain a state of equilibrium. The adaptation of the extended family unit to the industrial revolution required a nuclear family structure to carry out societal functions and to satisfy the physical and psychological needs of family members. Parsons argued that the nuclear family was fragmented from its kinship network, leading to psychological isolation. Parsons' theory has been criticised by many during the past six decades. His theory of the isolation of the nuclear family from its kin has been dismembered by research on family networks in the United States (Uzoka, 1979) and other countries (Segalen, 1986, 2000).

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