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What do we mean by "family"?
The idea of ‘family’ is very powerful in contemporary UK culture and policy. Family...
The idea of ‘family’ is very powerful in contemporary UK culture and policy. Family lives have been the subject of many anxieties both at the personal and policy levels. How do public debates relate to people’s everyday experiences of families? In this unit, you can explore the many attempts at defining ‘family’ and why these complex and contradictory meanings are important to us. We begin to unpick questions of power and inequality, to test our everyday assumptions about families, and to reflect on the values underpinning them.
After studying this unit you should be able to:
- Demonstrate a critical understanding of the concept of ’ (knowledge and understanding);
- Engage with and review debates about selected key concepts relevant to the study of families and personal relationships;
- Identify connections between concepts and the themes they raise for research and for social policy;
- Understand some of the social processes underlying research around family issues, and the implications these have for our knowledge of families;
- Use your knowledge and understanding to interpret and compare different key terms and concepts in the field of family studies;
- Interpret qualitative and quantitative evidence relating to family structures and meanings, and recognise the relevance of personal values and experience to such interpretation;
- Explore and discuss meanings of family as these are expressed in both formal and informal settings across diverse contexts;
- Select, summarise and integrate information from different types of material and sources;
- Present written material in a coherent and organised form, with sources referenced in an appropriate way;
- Respond to and learn from feedback as part of a process of managing your studying and learning experience;
- Engage critically with your own and others' taken-for-granted assumptions and values concerning family lives, and how these might be expressed in professional and personal interactions;
- Place policy and professional practices within wider debates about the conceptual underpinnings of family studies.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Why ‘family meanings’?
- 2 Can we, and should we, define what we mean by ‘family’ ?
- 3 So what is ‘family’?
- 4 Do family meanings matter?
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What do we mean by "family"?
In this unit you will encounter many different voices and views of ‘family’, and sometimes you will also be invited to reflect on your own views and assumptions. So, we welcome you to the fascinating study of family meanings. By putting ‘meanings’ at centre stage, and using this as a framework to examine families and relationships, this unit will give you an opportunity to explore the shifting and subtle ways in which people themselves, researchers, policy-makers and professionals make sense of the idea of ‘family’. In the process, you will also consider how issues of power, inequalities, and values are integral to any understanding of family meanings. As you will see, ideas of family can be imbued with some of our deepest personal desires and fears, as well as being a major focus for wider social anxieties and concerns. Families are thus crucial to any understanding of social lives, both for us as individuals and for social processes more widely. While families are sometimes described as if they somehow stand ‘outside’ of society, from another point of view, families and relationships may be seen as the very core of social life, binding individuals into the fabric of society.
This material is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Family Meanings (D270) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this.
This is an extract from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Sociology courses or view the range of currently available OU Sociology courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Thursday, 14th July 2011
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements section.
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