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Sociological Perspectives on Work and Family

Sociological Perspectives on Work and Family

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Published by: ebojbee on Dec 27, 2009
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 SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON WORK AND FAMILYJennifer GlassDepartment of SociologyUniversity of IowaPrepared for the NICHD/Sloan Foundation conference on Workplace/Workforce Mismatch:Work, Family, Health, and Well-Being” June 16-18, Washington, D.C.
 
 SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON WORK AND FAMILYSociologists have been concerned with institutional friction between work and familysystems in the industrialized West as far back as the 1960's, when Lewis and Rose Laub Coser (1974) first labeled both the family and workplace as “greedy institutions” that monopolizedindividuals’ time and energy. Although the problem has been framed in different ways atdifferent times and places, the essential sociological insight that ties them all together has beenthat the personal difficulties individuals face in trying to fulfill both family and paid work responsibilities are socially patterned and somewhat predictable given the competing logics of industrial production and family reproduction.Two primary research questions associated with work and family issues have dominatedthe literature in sociology -- (1) what determines the division of domestic labor amongheterosexual couples (especially when children are present) and why is it so stubbornly resistantto change, and (2) what are the causes of the male/female wage gap and why has it been so slowto close despite rapid increases in women’s labor force participation? These problems haveassumed such importance because the persistence of the sexual division of labor within bothfamilies and workplaces has major consequences for the material wealth and well-being of women and children. The different sociological approaches to these problems are derived fromthe major theoretical schools of thought within sociology itself, ranging from social psychological concepts of identity formation and role commitment to macrosociological conflictand functionalist paradigms. In this chapter, I will focus on four principal frameworks – symbolic interactionism/ identity theory, ecological/family systems theory, life course dynamics,and power exchange/conflict theory; exploring how each has been used to identify and explain
 
friction between work and family systems. I begin with symbolic interactionism, since it is theintellectual precursor of theories of role enactment and role commitment that have dominatedwork and family research and have evolved most recently into cultural or ideologicalexplanations of gender role persistence.I. THE SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONIST TRADITIONSymbolic interactionism is rooted in the notion that social order is accomplished throughthe routine enactment of constellations of behavior known as social roles. These social rolesendure across time and space for the individuals who occupy them, and while enacted byindividuals, their requirements transcend any one individuals’ needs or abilities. Most prominentamong these roles are those relating to gender, marriage, and parenthood, which pattern andmake predictable relations between the sexes and the tasks of reproduction and child care. Theconstellations of behavior appropriate to social roles are determined culturally and learnedthrough childhood socialization. In one variant of symbolic interactionism, the dramaturgical perspective, the enactment of social roles are performances staged for the purpose of makinginteraction orderly and predictable among a wide range of individuals. These performances,necessary for maintaining social order and accomplishing routine tasks, are taken for granted parts of our existence and are only thrown into relief when they are violated by actors whodeviate from culturally sanctioned scripts (think of male nurses or women who refuse to care for their infants as examples). Role deviance can result in social responses ranging from mildconfusion in interaction to extreme social ostracism or even physical/legal punishment.During the course of 19
th
century industrialization, dramatic transformations of the socialroles of adult men and women occurred. Masculinity was recast as the pursuit of money outside

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