chapter  8
18 Pages

Urban Households and Family Relationships

The word "family" evokes deep, rich, and diverse reactions. Its meaning is at once universal and personal. It is experienced in some way by almost everyone, yet it resists definition. It is a commonly uttered word, but two people rarely mean exactly the same thing by it. In form, its composition and tasks vary considerably within and across cultures. No two families are cut from the same mold. Yet some would argue that happy families tend to have much in common. Others would disagree and claim that it is dysfunctional families that have much in common, while happy families are as different as the stars are numerous. Family can refer exclusively to a nuclear unit composed of a coupIe and their offspring, or broadly to persons related by blood with a shared ancestor and a common identity. To complicate matters even more, the term "family" is often applied to persons who do not live in the same place yet retain symbolic obligations to one another. It can also include fictive kin who are not related by blood or marriage. To function effective1y, members of a family organize themse1ves into structures that are adapted to match the social conditions they live in, as they give life to and honor the cultural values passed on to them by their ancestors. In Western and industrializing societies, the nuclear family consisting of biological parents and children is suited to a highly transient and autonomous society. Extended family structures may be more suited to land-dependent rural societies whose principal protection against the vagaries of weather and nature is the mutuality and sharing among a network of family members.