This book seeks to extend the scope of a theory I first stated in the second edition of The Modern Family (1963: Cap. 1). The theory asserts that the unit of sociological analysis is the social system and that the critical dimensions of sociological analysis are structure, function, and influence. It is to be expected that societies will be distributed along these three systemic dimensions and that in complex societies important subsocietal categories (for example, the socio-economic and ethnic) will also be found to vary in these respects.
"Family" is a word that may refer to a group of two people - husband and wife, say, or mother and infant - or of hundreds - as in the case of clans. Activities of the family may consist of little more than providing company and giving solace, as among the kibbutzim of Israel, or they may embrace virtually all of society's interaction, as among traditional agrarian Chinese. A father may be unable to get his son to move a lawn mower, or he may determine the boy's occupation and life chances for all the latter's adult years.
In this book my associates and I aspire to specify the major determinants of the structure, functions, and influence of that form of social organization we call the family - why the family tends to be extended, functional, and powerful among sedentary agricultural tribes and Jewish entrepreneurs whereas it tends to be small among hunting bands and both small and low in functionality among suburban WASP's.
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