Family: A Social Institution in Transition - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1687 Words
Date:  2023-03-13


The family is the basic unit of society. In this regard, it is a major social institution which enables the continuity of the society through procreation and socialization. Generally, the family comprises people who are related by blood, adoption, or marriage. The family institution has undergone tremendous transformation throughout the human race. As a result of this transformation, various scholars have attempted to provide different interpretations of the current revolution that has seen the family altered from the traditional arrangement. This paper provides a comparison between Dagenais' and Beck's interpretation of the current transformation of the family institution. The two scholars have interpreted this transformation in the form of love in marriage, family crisis, and the duty towards children, conjugal relationships, and gender roles.

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The current revolution of the family has brought a significant transformation of the aspect of love in marriage. Generally, a marriage is expected to be based on deep love so that it withstands the test of time. However, this love has experienced significant transformation in the current family institution. There are different interpretations to this transformation. According to Dagenais, unlike the traditional marriage, the current one is based on love which enforces equality in the union and transforms the domestic relation into an unprecedented intimacy that makes the household a significantly pleasant place to live in (The Afterword p. 193). This interpretation makes marriage so subjective that even a homosexual marriage is considered a love marriage. As long as individuals love one another, they are free to enter a union. Conversely, Beck presents a different interpretation of the current family transformation in terms of love in marriage. He explains that the society seems to idolize love so much that antagonism and 'status struggle' have become part of life, laden with feelings of jealousy, betrayal, and hope, and refers to this as the 'normal chaos of love' (Introduction, p. 3-4). When two people create their own small world due to their love for one another, personal interests are put aside. This sacrifice makes disagreements and arguments rather frustrating and painful but love supersedes such feelings. Beck also explains that the modern love overcomes moral laws and antagonisms as it promises a life full of happiness (Love our secular religion, p. 175). While Beck interprets love in marriage as chaotic but enduring, Dagenais interprets it as a basis for equality and intimacy. The two interpretations, therefore, bring out the current transformation of the aspect of love in the family setting.

The increase in the challenges facing the society today can be attributed to the current transformation of the family. Traditionally, a major function of the family was to socialize an individual so that he or she portrayed acceptable behavior in the community. However, this seems to have changed today. The family institution has been unable to arrest the numerous cases of violence, juvenile delinquency, and youth suicide (The Afterword, p. 98). This helplessness reveals that the family is in a crisis. Scholars have proposed different interpretations of this crisis. Dagenais interprets the current crisis in the family as resulting from identity crisis within the family members, and explains that individuals have lost direction because the historical and social fabric that bound people together and gave them a guiding ideal is no longer existent (Contemporary Changes in the Family p. 144). People in the current family setting are left to apply their own philosophies of learning thus are easily losing direction. Nothing seems to guide their conduct. On the other hand, Beck interprets this crisis in the modern family as a result of dynamics in demographics, the availability of equal educational and labor opportunities thus the liberation of women who are no longer tied to the function of nurturing and rearing children (I am I, p. 110-111). With equal opportunities for both men and women in all spheres of life, the family is no longer a priority. In the process of seeking social identity and personal fulfillment, the family seems to have been forgotten and viewed as a block to success. Though different, these two interpretations point out that the current transformation of the family institution has put the very establishment in a crisis.

The conjugal relationship within the family institution has experienced transformation. Scholars have presented different interpretations of the transformation of the conjugal union in the modern world. There seems to be no precision in the conjugal relationship patterns. According to Dagenais, the traditional conjugal relationship began with dating which led to proposal, and finally marriage; however, today, there are no such boundaries since an individual, in most cases, is not sure whether the person with whom he or she shares his or her life is a friend, fiance, partner, wife, or husband (Contemporary Changes in the Family p. 145). Notably, the formation of a conjugal relationship is no longer necessitated by the urge to form a family but that of seeking one's satisfaction (The Ideal Type of the Modern Family, p. 11). Additionally, a marriage has never been founded on sexual attraction alone yet it seems to be the basis of modern conjugal relationships (Contemporary Changes in the Family, p. 175). Dagenais interprets this shift in marital vocabulary and intention as an identity crisis resulting from the loss of institutional guidelines. On the other hand, although the proponents of the German Code of Civil Law recognized the family as a justified institutional that married people should not criticize, the marital bliss has been abandoned in exchange for cohabitation or 'open marriages' (Introduction, p. 4). Beck interprets this transformation of the marriage institution as the insatiable search for independence. According to Beck, pronouncing the meaning of a conjugal union in a binding way is impossible since Reformation aided the release of people from the dogmas of the church into a free and industrial world that offered the opportunity for one to pursue their personal interests (Introduction, p. 5). Most relationships have, therefore, remained sexual in the current world. People are no longer bound by marriage. While Dagenais interprets this transformation as an identity crisis, Beck interprets it as a pursuit for freedom.

The responsibility towards children in the family institution has gone through tremendous transformation. Children are born when men and women engage in conjugal relationships. While some parents plan for the birth of their children, others do not. At the same time, some parents bring up their children together while others do it single-handedly. Nevertheless, parents have a responsibility towards their children, irrespective of the situation at the time they are born and reared. Dagenais explains that since a child is a result of a conjugal relationship, it brings the spouses together as the woman nurtures the child and the man constantly reminds the woman of his existence (The Ideal Type of the Modern Family, p. 5). Dagenais adds that the child becomes both a mediator and equalizer in the modern family. Conversely, Beck interprets parenthood as both an impediment and source of companionship in the current family setting. According to Beck, there are millions of people living on their own and taking care of their children single-handedly as a result of divorce, choice, or the search for autonomy (Introduction, p. 4). The current transformation of the family has resulted in the inevitable disintegration of the components of parenthood (fatherhood and motherhood). Nevertheless, although the child impedes the individualization process, he or she is viewed as the alternative to the loneliness that comes with divorce, separation or the choice to remain single (I am I, p. 118). The transformation of the family institution in terms of responsibility towards children has, therefore been interpreted depending on the dynamics of the society. While Dagenais interprets parenthood as a unifying factor, Beck interprets it as an impediment to the achievement of personalized goals and priorities.

The family institution has also undergone significant transformation in terms of gender roles. Traditionally, the woman was the home maker and the man was the breadwinner. However, in the post-industrialized society, both men and women have equal opportunities in education and employment. This transformation has led to the erosion of the gender roles. According to Dagenais, a person cannot fulfill his or her gender roles through their careers but a relationship that makes him or her perform his or her duties as a man or a woman (Contemporary Changes in the Family, p. 182). In this case, the man plays his role of providing for the family and the woman plays that of home-making. Dagenais adds that the definition of individuals in the modern marriage as distinct and abstract entities is what troubles the family. Dagenais interprets the gender roles as a basis for interdependence that transforms the family institution into a refuge (Contemporary Changes in the Family, p. 185). One cannot consider themselves as an abstract individual and expect their marriage to work. On the other hand, Beck explains that modernization has restructured the roles of men and women in such a way that the family has become a juggling act due to career ambitions and mobility requirements in the face of household chores and duty towards children (I am I, p. 111). Beck interprets this modernization as the individualization process through which women seek independence despite having supportive husbands. Nevertheless, in the case of a divorce, the current woman is left with an income and the children unlike in the traditional gendered woman who would be left with the children yet no income (I am I, p. 113). Dagenais interprets the transformation of gender roles as binder of the family institution while Beck interprets it as a search for independence.


In conclusion, both Dagenais and Beck have presented detailed interpretations of the current transformation of the family institution. They have interpreted the transformation in the form of love in marriage, family crisis, gender roles, conjugal relationships and duty towards children. The different interpretations have brought out the forces behind the current transformation and the future of the family institution. Therefore, both Dagenais and Beck have significantly added to the current knowledge of the ever-changing family institution.


Beck, U., Lash, S., &Wynne, B., (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity (Vol. 17). Sage.Dagenais, D. (2008). The (un)making of the modern family. UBC Press.

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