Family is one of the few things that accompany us through life, regardless of the circumstances. Whatever a person is, whatever happens on his life path, there is always a family. It can be happy and complete or exist only as memories of ancestors, but each of us has relatives. Each person is connected with many others through intricate blood ties, intertwined relationships. Although the underlying essence of these relationships remains unchanged, circumstances can have a very different effect on the formation and development of the family. Historical, political, economic, and, finally, social and cultural aspects can serve as such events. The purpose of this essay is a personal reflection on the concepts and of family and culture in the global perspective, taking into account the studied material.
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Before the course
The concept of the family itself is quite subjective and therefore requires further clarification and clarification. A family can be viewed as direct blood connections of a specific group of people or, for example, as an analytical and social construct, a unit of society (Hennon and Wilson 7). Community is built on families, and it depends on them because if there were no families, there would be no society. At the same time, society also affects families by a combination of various factors, part of which is the socioeconomic situation and differences in cultures.
From my point of view, I always regarded the family more as a circle of people close to me. Moreover, for me, the concept of family is not limited only to consanguinity. According to Mitchell, among some people, there is the idea of “fictive kin,” which designates a family not only as a kinship but also as a collection of friends (10). I support this thesis, which contrasts with the traditional “Blood is thicker than water.” However, I will not deny that in a global abstract perspective, the family can indeed be called a structural element of society.
Cultural and national differences affect family formation since two families located in different parts of the world will be completely different social units. Before I started this course, I did not take into account other factors affecting the development of the family. From my point of view, the main difference between families was precisely the cultural characteristics that depend directly on the country and part of the world. Aspects such as the economic or political situation, in my opinion, have much less impact on family formation. In the end, the structure of the family remains approximately the same regardless of its location, and only cultural differences bring changes in family size. Thus, in less developed or more traditional parts of the world, large families, including all possible relatives, are the standard, while in more modern and advanced countries, even a two-person family is acceptable.
Given the influence of the national and cultural aspects, I believed that most of the families could be described by one or another model corresponding to a particular nationality. Even despite the level of progress in the modern world, many families remain faithful to the traditions; therefore, they can be described by some generalized model (Hennon and Wilson 10). However, this approach does not take into account the great diversity of families, and also, as mentioned above, a combination of various factors that have no less influence on the development of the family. Before taking this course, my view and approach to the concept of the family were extremely superficial and shallow.
What I Have Learned
Without a doubt, this course has clarified for me a lot of details related to the concept of family. First of all, for further study of the material, it was necessary to introduce specificity into the basic concepts under consideration. To adequately consider a family not from a subjective point of view, but from a global perspective, it was necessary to clarify that the family is a social construct and analytical model (Hennon and Wilson 7). It is impossible to compare different families from all over the world without generalizing this concept from the point of view of sociology. Secondly, considering among many the cultural aspect, it must be emphasized that culture is what unites a specific group of people and distinguishes them from others (Hennon and Wilson 8). This term includes two components: abstract and specific, inherent in particular people. One part depends on another, for behavior is initially formed on abstract, general cultural representations. To effectively compare different cultures, one needs to remember this feature and separate the various aspects of culture.
It is necessary to compare families in different cultures to analyze families as a global phenomenon. Such a comparison will allow the effectively identify aspects that affect the development and formation of the family. During this course, we examined the characteristics of different families in various parts of the world: from Asia to Africa. To reflect my understanding of this issue, I will also conduct a brief analysis of several different families in diverse cultures, highlighting the main points that most influenced my thoughts, changing or enhancing them.
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Family in Germany
The first country I selected for study is Germany due to its unique national and historical features. It is worth noting that Germany until the 90s of the last century was divided into two states, very close in their national essence, but very different in culture and life. These states were the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), formed after World War II. Although, for the most part, both countries were inhabited by the related people, the enormous difference in state structure and culture could not but affect all areas of society, including the structure of the family. The approach to the family as a unit of society was absolutely the opposite: West Germany insisted on the independence of the family, while the GDR actively intervened in raising children (Hennon and Wilson 71). Even without further detailed comparisons, it is worth noting that this case is an excellent example of the influence of a political factor on a family. I did not consider this factor before the start of this course; however, after conducting such an analysis, it is impossible to deny the role of the state and politics in the existence of the family.
To conduct further research, it is necessary, first of all, to refer to statistical data on German families of that time. According to Hennon and Wilson, until 1997, the rate of divorce in the Federal Republic of Germany steadily increased, while in the GDR, it remained at the same level and gradually decreased (71). However, after 1997, the situation changed in the opposite direction – the rate of divorces in the GDR increased sharply, while their number in Germany stabilized. It can be noted that a small number of divorces in the GDR were associated with the state policy of that period. The state did its best to promote the concept of stable, long-term relationships, while in West Germany, as was said above, independence of families was welcomed. Accordingly, when the GDR regime fell and the grip of the state weakened, people began to live more independently and decide on a life together, focusing on their preferences, not the values of the system. This is another additional argument in favor of the influence of the political factor on the formation of families.
Such was life in various parts of divided Germany until its reunification. However, almost 30 years have passed since the restoration of the state, and many things have changed. In particular, the attitude of the state towards the family has changed. In Germany, a practice rare among European countries was applied and a special ministry was created that deals with family affairs (Lück and Kerstin 720). The state in Germany is actively engaged in supporting the family in various forms, including financial ones. Since couples with children carry more expenses than couples without children, the government compensates for these family obligations by paying multiple kinds of benefits. Such benefits, for example, are subsidies for children, which start at $ 186 per month for the first three children, as well as educational support, maternity leave, help in finding and buying a house (Hennon and Wilson 80). Such support allows even young families to have children without fears about the future of their family.
In other words, this situation is an example of the influence of the economic factor on the development of family relations. This exclusively domestic aspect should not be underestimated, since the level of income directly affects the quality of life of people and, accordingly, of the family. However, as practice shows, this factor is not the main and determining one and does not always have a strict direct impact on the family. So, in developed and advanced countries, the level of income is of great importance when deciding on the birth of a child, as people try to create families, being confident in their future. This is also evidenced, for example, by the gradually increasing age of marriage, which is approaching 30 years (Hennon and Wilson 71). However, in less developed countries, low incomes are not a reason to reduce fertility, and in such countries, low-income families with many children are commonplace. Thus, the economic context is undoubtedly an essential factor influencing the development of family relations; however, its influence is more dependent on other circumstances.
Family in Kenya
Kenya differs from Germany in almost every aspect, starting from the economy and ending with a different culture. First of all, the people of Africa have a unique history; therefore, an analysis of the family characteristics of Kenya can be a great example of family diversity from a global perspective. It should be noted that the peoples of Kenya are much more committed to the traditions in their everyday life. This also applies to the family, the formation and development of which are directly affected by customs. Speaking of creating a family as such, two approaches to this issue can be distinguished in Kenya. The first approach is inherent in young people and is influenced by Western culture and pervasive education. It consists of the predominance of romantic love over parental control and desires (Hennon and Wilson 212). Young couples build their relationships based on their passions, refusing to follow traditions. It can be concluded that despite the commitment of society to cultural heritage, the process of forming a family can also change due to the influence of other countries.
At the same time, there is a second approach, directly related to the customs of the peoples of Kenya. According to traditions, parents are looking for their children’s partners and spouses themselves, minimizing the role of the younger generation in choosing their companions (Hennon and Wilson 212). This position was justified by the fact that marriage was too serious a decision to entrust it to young people. The formation of a new family is, in fact, an alliance between two families and the transition of children from each of them to a new structure. The existence of such a union, in the opinion of the Kenyans, required a serious approach to this issue. Besides, the decision to choose a partner was often made not by chance, but based on the origin of the families and, most importantly, their economic status (Hennon and Wilson 212). Thus, the creation of a family in traditional Kenyan society is far from a romantic union of two people and is much closer to bargaining and building mutually beneficial relations between two families. We can say that economic factors heavily influence the formation of such a family due to the profoundly traditional culture of this country.
This situation is explained by the essence of traditional relations in Kenyan families. The family and the union of two people in a traditional society is not considered from a romantic point of view. First of all, in such families of Kenya, a rigid patriarchy reigns. According to Jensen, in a Kenyan family, a woman owns a home while she is married, but at the same time, she and her house belong to the man as property (793). However, the leading role of women in such a family is childbearing.
A woman who cannot give birth to a son, or, even worse, cannot give birth to a child at all, is considered a useless member of the family. There are many examples of how a woman, even being married to a man of high position, receives disrespectful looks because of her inability to give birth. At the same time, people may speak with pride about a family that is almost in distress but has many children (Jensen 793). Thus, the main goal of marriage in a traditional family between two people, in addition to economic factors, is also the birth of children, i.e., social factor.
Continuing the discussion from a social point of view, it is worth considering the polygyny phenomenon, widespread in Kenya. Polygyny is a form of polygamy, inherent primarily in patriarchy, and concludes that there are a large number of wives for one man. Such connections are also part of the tradition and passed down from generation to generation between members of particular social classes and communities (Hennon and Wilson 213). Moreover, women themselves have no way to influence this situation and are hostages of the case. A man is free to bring home a new wife if, for example, he is not satisfied with the number of children from his previous partner.
In this case, women often cannot even divorce, because in most cases, the children will either remain with the man, or a single woman simply will not be able to feed her family (Jensen 793). This situation is a demonstration of the influence of social and simultaneous cultural factors on the formation and development of the family. Kenyan traditional society is structured in such a way that the birth of children in it is the main task of the woman. Accordingly, such an attitude forms a specific type of behavior and a unique, different from others, kind of family.
Before starting this course, I had a very vague view of the family from a global perspective. For me, the family has always been an individual case, and I never thought about what it consists of, how and under the influence of which it is formed. For me, the family was my closest relatives, including my closest friends. However, after completing part of this course and considering the family as a concept from a global, abstract perspective, I understand much better what exactly is a family.
The influence of various factors on the development of the family up to the present moment seemed to me a complicated subject due to the lack of the concept of a family as an abstraction. Still, I was able to identify several factors that directly affect the formation of the cell of society. Before the start of the course, I believed that the main difference between families in different parts of the world is based purely on their nationality. Now I can highlight several factors that contribute to the formation of a family to one degree or another, depending on the situation. These factors include, for example, political and historical factors, as is the case with the GDR and the FRG. The economic aspect, which I did not take into account earlier, is undoubtedly essential. Still, it can have a completely different degree of influence, as can be seen in Kenya and Germany. Finally, the cultural aspect, which I considered fundamental, is much stronger in developing than in developed countries.
This list can be continued further; however, from this listing, it is worth concluding that a whole set of factors influences the formation of a family. Considering the family from a global point of view, without going to specific individual personalities, it is necessary to take into account many different aspects that affect the family to varying degrees. The degree of their influence is primarily determined by nationality, the country in which the family is located. However, the more detailed the analysis to be carried out, the more it is necessary to narrow down the area of research: from country to region, from region to region, from region to city. Nevertheless, thanks to this course, I expanded my knowledge of the concept of the family, learned many new contextual factors, and became convinced of their significance for the formation of the family.
Hennon, Charles, and Wilson, Stephan, editors. Families in a Global Context. Routledge, 2008.
Jensen, An-Magritt. “Comparing family changes in two rural areas of Kenya: Past legacies and present realities.” Development Southern Africa, vol. 34, no. 6, 2017, pp. 787-801.
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Lück, Detlev, and Kerstin, Ruckdeschel. “Clear in its core, blurred in the outer contours: culturally normative conceptions of the family in Germany.” European Societies, vol. 20, no. 5, 2018, pp. 715-742.
Mitchell, Barbara. Family matters: An introduction to family sociology in Canada. 3rd ed., Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2017.