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Edited by Norbert F. Schneider and Michaela Kreyenfeld

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Norbert F. Schneider and Michaela Kreyenfeld

This research handbook introduces readers to major concepts, theories, terminologies, and methods of contemporary sociology of the family in Europe. It covers key topics of family sociology, such as the formation and dissolution of unions, the postponement of parenthood, the consequences of separation for family life and family relations, the changing division of household tasks, the diversity of living arrangements, and the organisation of intergenerational relationships. It also addresses emerging themes, such as assisted reproduction, transnational families, and ‘digital’ family sociology. Although other regions of the world are touched upon in some of the contributions, the handbook has a clear focus on research that describes and offers theoretical approaches to understanding family behaviour in European countries. This focus inevitably draws attention to the cultural and social policy contexts of these countries, and how they relate to family behaviour, family structures, and family dynamics.

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Gerda Neyer

This chapter provides an overview of the development and the core research on welfare state regimes, family policies, and family behaviour. The first part sketches the theoretical development in this research realm. It briefly outlines research lines prior to Esping-Andersen’s influential book on welfare regimes; describes the paradigmatic change in comparative welfare state research that his proposition brought about; and outlines the contributions of feminist researchers to research on family and family policies, welfare regimes, and the classification of welfare states. The second part presents methodological issues related to the study of the relationship between welfare state regimes, family policies, and family behaviour. The last part provides an overview of recent issues and directions in welfare state research –varieties of capitalism, social investment welfare states, and crises – that pose challenges to and open up new opportunities for research on the links between welfare states, family policies, and families.

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Bernhard Nauck

In the introduction, systematic cross-cultural family research is distinguished from conventional xenological approaches, and from cross-national and cross-societal research. A multi-level model is then introduced as a framework for understanding the complex interplay of individual behaviour, family, and kinship relations embedded in the institutional structures of societies. As a major cultural divide, affinal and descent family and kinship systems and their inbuilt features are discussed and related to the ‘Western European marriage pattern’ and patrilineal patterns. Modernisation theory and the ‘second demographic transition’ theory are discussed with regard to their implications for family change in economically developed societies. Family demographic changes since the middle of the twentieth century in East Asian societies are taken as an example in an examination of possible convergences and path-dependent divergences between these countries and societies that follow the ‘Western European marriage pattern’. The chapter also looks at the relevance of emerging new data sources for cross-cultural family research.

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Eric D. Widmer

This chapter stresses the contributions a configurational approach can make to our understanding of family diversity. Much of the scholarly work on this topic currently uses the heterogeneity of family households as the main criterion of family diversity. By contrast, the configurational perspective posits that the identification of a specific family ‘we’ (or family Weness), and the configurations of family interdependencies beyond the confines of households, are critical to understanding the diversity of families. The use of social network methods is recommended.

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Dirk Konietzka and Michaela Kreyenfeld

This chapter gives an overview of life course research and its application in quantitative studies of family behaviour. Starting with the work of Glen Elder, the life course has developed into a well-established conceptual framework for analysing patterns of social behaviour and structure. At its core are transitions and trajectories that are shaped by institutional and historical contexts. Thus, the aim of the life course paradigm is to understand societal change as a product of cohort-specific life course behaviour. Furthermore, the life course approach lays a strong foundation for studies that examine the impact that early experiences may have on later life course outcomes. It also draws our attention to how the life courses of individuals are intertwined (‘linked lives’). Life course research has evolved in tandem with the collection of life course data and the advancement of methods for longitudinal data analysis.

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Nicolas M. Legewie and Anette E. Fasang

This chapter provides an introduction to the emerging field of digital family research. We review the opportunities as well as the methodological and ethical challenges associated with using two different types of digital data to investigate family-related research questions: 1) ready-made digital data, i.e., digital traces that emerge as a by-product of other processes, and that are repurposed for family research; and 2) custom-made digital data, i.e., digital data that have been purposefully collected for family research using new digital data collection tools. We discuss which family-related research questions the two types of digital data seem best-suited to addressing.

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Laura Bernardi

There is a growing interest in the potential value of qualitative longitudinal research for family sociology. This chapter outlines the value of qualitative longitudinal research (QLR), and particularly its prospective approach, by shedding light on its specific characteristic: the possibility of capturing the evolving temporal dimension of experiences of family transitions, and its subjective character. First, I provide a brief overview of the main features that characterise prospective qualitative research. Second, I illustrate its value for family sociology by providing examples from past and ongoing research studies addressing family transitions. Third, I turn to the challenges that can arise in conducting QLR given its flexibility, the ethical issues that it raises, and the analytical complexities involved in addressing change. I conclude by exploring the underdeveloped opportunities in QLR in family sociology, such as conducting mixed-methods studies and taking advantage of the secondary use of data.

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Gil Viry and Andreas Herz

This chapter focuses on the network approach to families. It discusses how recent developments in social network analysis (SNA) and multilevel analysis can help family researchers examine the structure of intimate relationships, and gain a better understanding of family behaviour. It first introduces the key principles of the network approach. It then shows how mapping and analysing family and intimate relationships as a set of ties (i.e., a network) offers a unique way to understand the form and the quality of these relationships – such as the degree of care, support, intimacy, conflict, influence, or power they provide – as a product of the characteristics of individual family members, relationships, and networks that go beyond the conventional definition of the family as consisting of co-residential partners and children. Finally, the chapter concludes by discussing the benefits and challenges of using the network approach for researching families, and by suggesting some avenues for future research in the field.

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Josef Ehmer

Research on the history of the European family has been one of the main strands of ‘new social history’ since the 1960s. Since the 1980s, cultural historical approaches gained increasing influence. This chapter aims to exemplify these ‘historical perspectives’ by focusing on three topics: (1) the diversity of family forms in pre-modern Europe, which serves as a starting point for the discussion of trends towards standardisation as well as parallel or renewed diversification; (2) familial gender relations since medieval times, which reveal the precarious balance between women having a strong position and male dominance; (3) the evolution of generational relations, which paves the way to questioning popular views and academic theories about the novelty of modern and post-modern family relations.