The Redefinition of Sociological Institutions
So long as there are economic fluctuations, homogamy amongst subcultures worldwide, and the willingness of people and researchers to multi-laterally communicate towards achieving the quality of life desired by all groups, there will remain the possibility of “re-defining” sociological institutions. To name a few from the wide spectrum of possibilities, two institutions that have been significantly “redefined” by time are the American family culture and co-housing communities throughout the United States.
American family culture in the 1700’s consisted of a style of living called the extended or “connected” family. The idea arose that the extended family style had been “damaged”, therefore deserving a more critical look into the issue. In a “connected” family, the economic value of family members far outweighed their personal family freedoms. Entire families of people would be living and working together in a group to gain economic stability. Women’s interests were thought to be insignificant by society, and children were bred freely as to increase the family’s labor capital. The extended family style was one of mutual support and complementary value between family members. Women and children worked long hours on their farms and were denied of any freedoms whether they are personally or politically empowering. The women then finding a “second shift” (household duties and child rearing) when they retired from working that day.
The in-depth look at the structure of the extended family raised new ideas on increasing the quality of life for all existing “connected” models. Views about women’s empowerment, freedoms, gender equity, and self-sufficiency were established along with
those of child welfare and proper upbringing. This experimental family style was considered an early form of the nuclear or “non-connected” family style. Mother’s relationships with their children grew more significant and women were allowed more and more access to new child-rearing technologies and focused more on “child turnout” than economic growth. By acting to liberate and equate the interests of women this movement molded the “spheres of influence” and traditional roles of the existing “connected” family model. Thus, kin-direct motherhood styles quickly became obsolete due to the sudden increase amongst women in modern thinking and technology. The “new” nuclear family was one full of individual freedoms that were foreign to most families, in that they only knew of the traditional family practices. That explains how “American family life” as a social institution has the ability to be re-defined via modern sociological theory and concept.
To further prove the power of sociological research, the co-housing to NEL model transformation occurred. The co-housing model was established in the late 1960’s strictly for the purpose of reforming some of the undesirable characteristics of 1950’s family life for those residing. It emphasizes “interdependence” of neighbors in a community, whereas residents can even have “cross-household” responsibilities within their neighborly setting, and both children and adults become integral parts of their immediate social web. These responsibilities were mainly those of involvement in other’s child-rearing, without any distinct political or social agendas. It is not an attempt to revolutionize family life or public policy, so much as it was a “comfort zone” for structure-desiring families.
Idealist beliefs were established by those who felt as though they understood the structure of society and its’ functions. This vision called “utopian realism” was usually a distorted reality that was based around existing fact and theory. This new concept fathered the modernized co-housing based community know as the New Everyday Life. Unlike the co-housing model, the NEL model was equipped with social and political agendas towards the promotion of women’s empowerment. It was generally assumed that all people would benefit in this discreet structure, and that gender alliance was to be agreed on. The NEL model advocated freeing women from the threat of violence, enhancing their negotiation capabilities with men, wage employment, and social empowerment. The principle of neighbors supervising the lives of those next to them, and becoming involved in other’s personal business became an issue of controversy among these communities. A system of “virtual democracy” or “commonplaces” was formed to carry out NEL objectives and make decisions in the community’s best interests. The NEL was ultimately a very modernized and advanced version of co-housing with a feminist agenda, and served the community’s needs as well. Modernized thought again took a social institution (co-housing) and overturned its’ traditional roles to expand and improve the quality of life.
Ultimately, the two previous comparisons are legitimate examples of traditional role change and the “re-definition” of social institutions as the modernization of concept and thought occurs over time. Sociological research, economics, and other forces are accountable for the bettering of social institutions, and for being capable of changing existing traditions, even those with long-standing histories.