On this site I keep a running account of the connections between families and inequality. The nature of this relationship is one of the central problems of inequality in modern societies. To the extent that our well-being is determined by the family we land in, our imagined meritocracy is more illusion than achievement.
I follow four types of relationship between families and inequality:
Unequal access to families. The unequal distribution of resources – economic, social and political – affects people’s ability to achieve the families they want.
Families transmit inequality. Wealth, poverty and privilege are passed from generation to generation.
Families contain and reproduce inequality. Families are one place where the powerful exploit and abuse the powerless, behind the veil of privacy that cloaks the family as an institution.
Families respond to inequality. On the other hand, without the cooperation and mutual support of family members, the human race wouldn’t have made it this far. Even today, for the poorest people survival is often at risk when families fail or are absent.
Is “the family” a barbaric, pre-modern holdover institution, perpetuating irrational relations and inherited forms of inequality? Or is it a “haven in a heartless world,” the only thing left that is not commodified – a bastion of resistance to the encroaching state and market – and one of the few places where people still have any loyalty to anyone but themselves? I think it’s both.
I write this blog as I’m working on a sociology textbook titled, The Family: Diversity, Inequality and Social Change, to be published by W. W. Norton in 2014 (if you would like to learn more about the book, please register here). With the blog I get some immediate gratification during a long-term project, and drum up feedback from readers.
This is also a place for me to pursue diversions and interesting conversations about sociological topics that catch my attention. Some posts are published on the Sociological Images blog, and some are on The Atlantic, where there always are lively conversations as well.
I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions on any of the posts.
Note: The illustration above is from the 1880 book Gypsie Life, by George Smith, reproduced by Project Gutenberg.