Family structure, relationships inside it and factors of influence tend to change over time. In the context of social family studies, the approach of symbolic interactionism deserved its privileged place due to a number of factors. First of all, it has a wide capacity for the theoretical thinking; its aim is to engage different ideas, which helps to analyze sociological data in the long-scale perspective, and make prognoses.
Secondly, it also has a profound research tradition since it was in the focus of attention not only among researchers concerned with the family studies but also among the social scientists in general, which allow finding correlations between the institutions different branches of social science (Blumer, 1986). This paper’s objective is to analyze the changes to the institution of marriage, diversification of the family structure, and the role of the social institutions of education and religion in modern family structure from the perspective of symbolic interactionism.
Changes in the institution of marriage, cohabitation, and divorce
According to LaRossa and Reitzes (1993), in symbolic interactionism approach, the behavior and the role expectations of a family, its form, and structure are largely influenced “by institutions and societal factors” (p. 141). Among many things, the analysis of marriage crises and divorces can show that crisis often occurs not as the result of hardship in cohabitation but is affected by its definition from the perspective of the community (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993). In other words, the objective definition of a family crises by the social institutions and impartial community members can affect the marriage no less than the subjective insider positions of the family members. Today, probably, everyone knows families who faced divorce, and the reasons for their decisions are sometimes very similar, which means that they were made according to the same social standard of the society.
Changes in the structure of family: factor of diversity from the perspective of symbolic interactionism
The family structure is in many ways, defined by the identities in it that members of the family adopt. In the families of, for example, 19th century, the spectrum of the family roles was quite restricted in terms of gender, class, racial, national, age, and cultural parameters. However, it is easy to notice in everyday experience that the role of the individual in the family is nowadays less dependent on the gender factors; there are no objective restrictions from the point of the community towards marriage or cohabitation of people with the different class, racial, cultural, educational or national backgrounds. From the perspective of symbolic interactionism, it means, again, that modern structure of the family is more flexible become it does not meet as many societal restrictions as it did before.
Changes to the role of education and religion in family building and marriage
Symbolic interactionism approach allows analyzing interconnections between different social institutions. According to LaRossa and Reitzes (1993), individuals grasp the details of these interconnections of social life “through social interactions in everyday situations” (p. 145). It means the attitude to the importance of religious and educational components in family life, and marriage depends on the individual’s experiences in the process of socialization and the attitudes adopted by the community. Speaking of everyday life, in my experience, there is a double correlation in terms of educational background since the individuals with higher educational levels are supposedly more aware and broad-minded about the diversity of family life. However, on the other hand, they seem to be more demanding in terms of educational background of their partners in marriage.
Blumer, H. (1986). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
LaRossa, R., & Reitzes, D. C. (1993). Symbolic interactionism and family studies. In P. Boss (Ed.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods (pp. 135-166). New York, NY: Springer Science & Business Media.