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The Family and the City Author(s): Philippe Aris Reviewed work(s): Source: Daedalus, Vol. 106, No.

2, The Family (Spring, 1977), pp. 227-235 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences Stable URL: . Accessed: 23/05/2012 14:20
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The Family and the City

in this essay* about the relationship urban and history. My central theme will be that when family history and lost its vitality, the the city (and, earlier, the rural community) deteriorated cell. In an attempt to fill like a hypertrophied role of the family overexpanded the gap created by the decline of the city and the urban forms of social it had once provided, the omnipotent, intercourse family took omnipresent to upon itself the task of trying satisfy all the emotional and social needs of its it is clear that the family has failed in its atterripts to members. Today, the increased emphasis on privacy has that feat, either because accomplish the family has been too stifled the need for social intercourse or because are that the family alienated powers. demanding People completely by public that the outside world in its indifference or hostility refuses to do. do everything But we should now ask ourselves why people have come to expect the family to I should between satisfy all their needs, as if it had some kind of omnipotent power.

like to make

some observations

Life inTraditional Societies

traditional societies from the First of all, let us take a brief look atWestern Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, that is, before they had been affected by the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. Every individual grew up in a
community made up of relatives, neighbors, friends, enemies, and other people


was more he had interdependent The community relationships. was the a than in the individual's fate important determining family. When to make a apron strings, it was his responsibility young boy left his mother's Like an animal or a bird, he had to the community. place for himself within to establish a domain, a place of his own, and he had to get the community was up to him to determine the limits of his authority, to decide It it. recognize whom he could do and how far he could go before encountering resistance from as a whole. his his and the the others?his wife, parents, community neighbors, on a domain more use in this the skillful of natural way depended Securing
talents than on knowledge or savoir-faire. It was a game in which the venture


on *This paper was written for presentation, of Southern 24-25, 1977, at the University February a on "The American Its Changing California, during colloquium Family: Images and Social Impli of Humanities, Division the National Endowment cations," by the University's jointly sponsored for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller Foundation.





a dramatic flair had the boy gifted in eloquence and with advantage. All life was a stage: if a player went too far, he was put in his place; if he hesitated, he was relegated to an inferior role. Since a man knew that his wife would be his most important and faithful inmaintaining and expanding his role, he chose his bride with care. collaborator On her part, the woman accepted the domain she would have to protect along with live. Marriage the man with whom she would the husband's strengthened a as not of but of her result his wife's also her work, personality, position, only
of mind, and her talents as herself. player, actress, story-teller, her ability to seize opportunities to assert


was neither important concept, then, is that o? domain. But this domain are understood nor as terms these today; rather, it was both private public, to it with do individual because had behavior, with a simultaneously: private with his manner of being alone or in society, with his self man's personality, awareness and his inner being; public because it fixed a man's place within the Individual maneuvering and established his rights and obligations. community was was not completely because the social filled. The fabric was space possible loose, and it behooved each individual to adjust the seams to suit himself within The community the existence of the limits set by the community. recognized The the empty space surrounding people and things. It isworth remarking that the word "play" can mean both the act of playing and freedom of movement within a space. was created and Perhaps, by the act of playing, the free space to play in maintained. The state and society were forces that intervened in a person's life and intermittently, bringing with them either terror and ruin only infrequently or miraculous most part, each individual had to win fortune. But for the good in his own small his domain by coming to terms only with the men and women

The household,

role of the family was without threatening

women would

to strengthen the authority of the head of the the stability of his relationship with the commu
at the wash house; men at the cabaret. Each



in processions, in the public square, at its special place in church, and even at the dance. But the family as such had no domain of its celebrations, with own; the only real domain was what each male won by his maneuvering, the help of his wife, friends, and dependents. sex had in theNineteenth and Twentieth Centuries:

A New Way ofLife

Three Important


In the course of the eighteenth century the situation began to change. It is to at what the major trends were that produced this this necessary analyze point at least three important phenomena it. that caused and directed I find change. from the fact that, in the eighteenth The first of these stemmed century,
society?or, more properly, the state?was loath to accept the fact that there

certain areas of life beyond its sphere of control and influence. Earlier, the situation had been just the reverse: such free areas were allowed to exist, and individuals were permitted to explore them. In American adventurous parlance, we had a "frontier"?or rather several frontiers? might say that the community But following the back by the audacious. which could be pushed upon






its sophisticated
was no longer an

nology and


wiped out those


state, with
frontiers: there


one could go. Today, the state's scrutiny and control extend, or to extend, into every sphere of activity. Nothing is to remain to occupy and is no longer any free space for individuals untouched. There some To be sure, liberal societies allow individuals claim for themselves. as in such school and where there but is a work, initiative, only specific areas, a situation order for This is different from pre-established promotion. totally the way things were in traditional society. In the new society, the concepts of are no longer accepted; it must be too well regulated. play and free space The second phenomenon that produced this change is directly related to the first: this is the division of space into areas assigned to work and areas assigned to living. The working man now leaves what had been his domain in traditional society, the place where all his activities had taken place, to go to work far away, sometimes very far away, in a very different environment, where he is subject to a system of rules and to a a new world, where he hierarchy of power. He enters may, for all we know, be happier and more secure, and where he can become beyond which are supposed
involved in associations with others?for example, through trade unions.

to work was invented by the new specialized place devoted society in its abhorence of the void. Running and business industrial, commercial, requires systems of tight control. Free-enterprise enterprises capitalism has demonstrated its flexibility and ability to adapt. But this flexibility has nothing in common with the old concept of free space; rather it depends on the precise of the unit as a whole. Although in a free-market functioning enterprises not no are controlled be the less controlled if by state, economy may by they This
society at large.

could reasonably argue that this displacement of workers was a form of as Foucault phrased it, similar in nature to the "surveillance and punishment," in school, madmen in asylums, and delinquents in locking up of children One
prison. order In and case, any control. it was certainly, at the very least, a means of maintaining

The third and last important phenomenon that affected the transforma tions of the eighteenth and nineteenth is of a very different order than century the first two; it is psychological in nature. But the correlation with chronological the other two is nonetheless era not only the The witnessed impressive. industrial revolution but an emotional revolution as well. Previously, feelings
were diffuse, God, spread saints, out over numerous children, natural friends, and horses, supernatural dogs, orchards, including parents, objects, and

the immediate Henceforth, they would be focused entirely within The and their a children became the of and family. couple objects passionate love that transcended even death. exclusive From that time on, a working man's life was polarized between job and But not those out to who did work (women, children, old go family. people men) were concerned exclusively with family life. Nor was the division between there was no doubt some job and family either equal or symmetrical. Although room for emotional at work, involvement the family was a more conducive gardens.
setting; whereas the working world was subject to constant, strict surveillance,

the family was


of refuge,

free from outside








acquired some similarities to the individual domain in traditional society, but with an important distinction: the family is not a place for individualism. The individual must recede into the background for the sake of the family unit, and for the sake of the children. the family had become Furthermore, especially more removed from the was than it in earlier times, and it tended to community be rather hostile to the external world, to withdraw into itself. Thus, it became the private domain, the only place where a person could legitimately escape the inquisitive stare of industrial society. Even now, industrial society has not given up trying to fill the gaps created by the decline of traditional society; it does,
nevertheless, show some respect for the new entity?the family?which has

grown up in its midst as a place of refuge. the separation of space into work areas and living areas corresponds to Thus, the division of life into public sector and private sector. The family falls within
the private sector.



The City and theCafe

of Social Intercourse

in theNineteenth


evolved These, then, were the main features of the new way of life. They and were not equally accepted in all places. slowly in the industrialized West, Two the nineteenth century before important periods must be distinguished: the automobile the and first half of the twentieth. The space, conquered difference between these two periods lies in the degree of privacy that people enjoyed and in the nature of the public sector. the first period, roughly the whole of the nineteenth century, family During life among the bourgeoisie and the peasantry was already much as it is today, that is, it was a private domain. But?and this distinction is very important? women were those who affected worked) only (including by the increased
privacy; men were able to escape at times, an outlet they no doubt considered a


the school;


and children

had virtually
entire universe.

no life outside
Men, on the

the family
other hand,


had a lively meeting place outside their families and jobs?to wit, the city. I would like at this point to focus my attention on the city, disregarding societies where those peasant of the age-old tradition and the innovations industrial era are so intertwined that it is difficult for the analyst to distinguish between them. Still, it should be noted that historians today agree that, thanks to the agricultural prosperity inWestern Europe during the nineteenth century, a was no true rural there. civilization This doubt of the flourishing developed United States as well. Is it not said that in certain regions of the Midwest traditions which have long since disappeared in immigrants have maintained to enormous their original homelands? These flourishing the subcultures testify at a time when privacy, the family, and the vitality of the peasant communities school were making great inroads upon them. The rural exodus had not yet destroyed peasant life; rather, it had made it easier. This was the era of the beautiful costumes and regional furniture we find in folk museums. It was a time when folk tales were easily today displayed
collected. It was also, however, a time when, thanks to the schools, many

peasants were

trying desperately

to force open the doors

to government





The elementary
rural commu

for their children

school teacher was

(who by then had grown

an important person


in number).


that nities; today he is no longer. But it is the urban, not the rural, development I should now like to discuss. The long nineteenth of the century marked a high point in the development No doubt urban populations had already city and its urban civilization. en masse increased to frightening levels; the poor immigrants who descended upon them from the villages appeared as a threat to the bourgeois property
owners, who watched them encamp in their towns, and viewed them as an

army of criminals and rebels. But this image born of fear need not deceive us it had been in the today. To be sure, the large city was no longer what
seventeenth constituting that century, a community of separate is, a group a character with of neighborhoods its own. In or streets, each eighteenth-century

a fixed the arrival of a transient population without placed of residence this of life. Traditional of social intercourse based on way upset patterns new streets to ones and But them that neighborhoods began disappear. replaced maintained and developed the city's basic functions. Paris,
Central to these new patterns were the cafe and the restaurant, public

meeting places where conversation flowed as abundantly as food and drink?the an invention of the late cafe was a place for discussion, century. eighteenth had there been Previously eating places, inns, and hostels, places to serve meals in the home or to provide food and lodging for transient guests. There were also taverns and cabarets where people went to drink, and often for the low life to be found there. But they were places of ill-repute, sometimes brothels. Cafes, on the other






and different.
The cafes



an urban



in rural



were places in cities, which growing very rapidly and where people did not know one another, as they had before. In England the cafes were enclosed like name but the describes their function well. In continental cabarets, upub" onto street came cafes to the and dominate them, thanks to Europe, opened
their terraces. Cafes with their large terraces were in fact one of the most

cities. They were all but non-existent in striking features of nineteenth-century the medieval and Renaissance sections of the old cities, such as Rome, but made up for it by being very much in evidence in those same Italian cities around the
large public Italian unity. squares In Vienna, that owe too, their cafes existence were, and to Cavour's still are, the vast urbanization of the city. and In heart

Paris the opening of the cafes was probably the reason behind the shift of public life from closed places, like the famous gallery at the Palais Royal, to the linear, the center of the city's night life. open space of the boulevard, Cafes no doubt originally served the aristocracy, rather than the bour were But and extended to all classes of society geoisie. they quickly popularized and to all neighborhoods. In nineteenth-century cities, there was not a neighbor
hood without at least one cafe, and more often several. In working-class

the small cafe played a vital role; it enabled communication that neighborhoods, would otherwise have been impossible among the housed who residents poorly were often away at their jobs: the cafe served as message center. That iswhy the accessible after its advent. The cafe became telephone became so immediately the place where steady customers could make and receive telephone calls, leave




It is easy to understand Maurice Aguilhon's and receive messages. surprise at each with its number of small cafes in a city like Marseilles, the extraordinary and friends gathered around the counter and the little network of neighbors a new number and The public popularity of these cafes suggest that telephone. in the nineteenth-century sector had spontaneously city. developed even to this new to say, the state's desire for control extended Needless state immediately understood the danger represented by the public sector. The and enforcing codes or regulations. cafes and sought to limit it by establishing con In addition, But it never completely succeeded. people, self-righteous were the which of cerned with order and morality, cafes, they suspicious to be hotbeds of alcoholism, considered laziness, vice, and political anarchy, In France even today urban planners relegate cafes to shopping wrangling. or a areas at from any elementary distance in and districts residential good and of authorities of the the mistrust self-righteous secondary schools. But the has still failed to diminish the popularity of the cafes. In the nineteenth century, civilization was based on them. Now let us compare the role played by the cafe in that era to that played by the family. The family was a private place; the cafe a public one. But they had to escape society's control. The one thing in common: they both managed so by right; the cafe in actual fact. These were the only two did family came to to and order which of surveillance modern the system exceptions include all social behavior. Thus, alongside the growing privacy of the family a new and lively form of twentieth and nineteenth the centuries, early during in even the largest cities. This explains why the social intercourse developed cities of the era were so full of life, and why the increased amount of privacy did
not weaken the forms of social intercourse, at least among males.

The Decay Toward

of the City

in the Twentieth


in Western industrialized the middle of the twentieth century these forms of social intercourse began to break down. The social and The more the urban population function of the city disappeared. socializing am reminded of the words of the comedian more I declined. the the grew, city in fact, was exactly the cities to the countryside. who suggested moving That, what happened. in all countries, but urban areas have developed continuous Immense cities where they have replaced the city. There, States in the United especially one of the most in the have ceased to exist. This phenomenon, important seen in the light of what we know about the must our be of society, history I should like to show how the decay of the family and the ways it has changed. have affected contemporary function its loss of the and family socializing city life. From the late nineteenth century, even before the advent of the automobile, them rich city-dwellers cities, considering began fleeing from the crowded and dangerous. Far from inhabited areas, they sought purer air unwholesome and more decent surroundings. En masse they began to settle in those neighbor such as the hoods on the outskirts of cities that were still sparsely populated, near in the Paris arrondissements and seventeenth sixteenth greenery of the Pare societies,




the railroad, the streetcar,



the Bois






out. This well and, they pushed farther and farther to industrialized all Western known phenomenon societies, but it is in applies that it developed most fully and reached its most extreme North America so we shall examine it there. proportions, are segregated not only by social class but also by function. Neighborhoods are rich, as and poor, working-class there Thus, bourgeois neighborhoods just in time, the automobile,
ones, so, too, there are business districts and residential ones. Offices, business

es, factories,

and shops are found

in one



and gardens

in the

The means other

forum, the

of transportation most often used to get from one place to the is the private car. In this scheme of things there is no longer room for the
agora, the piazza, the corso. There is no room, either, for the cafe as

room for is the drive-in and the fast-food meeting place. The only thing there is are to be found in both business and residential outlet. Eating establishments on their location, they are busy at different times of the districts; depending are humming with activity at and industrial districts, they day. In business most of their business at night. lunchtime; in residential neighborhoods they do in both places, they are empty and silent: the only sign of the off-hours, During life amidst the furniture and electric lights is the bored face of the cashier. What is truly remarkable is that the social intercourse which used to be the function has now entirely vanished. The city is either crowded with main city's the traffic of people and cars in a hurry or it is totally empty. Around noontime, stroll when in business districts sometimes take an old-fashioned office workers
the weather is nice, and enjoy a piece of cake or an ice cream cone in the sun.

But after five o'clock the streets are deserted. Nor do the streets in residential become crowded, except around shopping correspondingly neighborhoods centers and their parking lots. People return to their homes, as turtles withdraw into their shells. At home they enjoy the warmth of family life and, on occasion, has become a the company of carefully chosen friends. The urban conglomerate
mass of small islands?houses, offices, and shopping centers?all separated

from one another by a great void. The interstitial space has vanished. This evolution was precipitated by the automobile and by television, but it was well underway before they had even appeared, thanks to the growth of the in the bourgeois and middle classes during the nineteenth cult of privacy 1920 1890 and between To born (now between 50 and 80 years century. people the life. They wanted to escape suburb ideal of the old), way green represented from the bustle of the city and to live inmore rural, more natural surroundings. This shift to the suburbs, far from the noise and crowds of city streets, was caused by the growing attraction of a warm private family life. In those areas as in the working-class areas where private family living was less developed, obstinate in societies dominated the males, Mediterranean, i.e., by along life fared better. community the results of the and early twentieth the nineteenth centuries, During were new of and the increased privacy kept in check, it family style living to and rural areas. A life in both urban the vitality of community seems, thanks was in life the home and life in the achieved between family balance community was on street. in balance and the the the This terrace, cafe, family destroyed




the day, thanks to the spread of suburbia as a result of the unexpected it received from the new technology: the automobile and television. When help that happened, the whole of social life was absorbed by private, family living. the only function of the streets and cafes was to enable the Henceforth, movement between home and work or restaurant. These are no longer physical
places of meeting, conversation, recreation. From now on, the home, the

to fulfill all those functions. And when a or a couple, the family claim couple to cannot at the that done leave house do be home, they go in family something a mobile extension of the house, namely, the car. As the ark to permitted Noah so car owners to survive the Flood, the pass through the hostile and permits its dangerous world outside the front door. in Rome at midnight Not in the working-class long ago I found myself were still crowds of people in the streets, of Trastevere. There neighborhood but there were no adults, only ragazzi of 18 or 20. They were mostly boys, because people there have not yet gotten into the habit, at least in working-class of letting girls run around at night. Although children and neighborhoods,
adults are content to sit in front of the television, adolescents are more interested

The young them, in personal, spontaneous experiences. were greeted by the marvelous Roman of still the Trastevere street, people of life. But what about the their where warm, picturesque setting daily places no then? In the of exists? Where do adolescents basements setting gather longer rooms are in in underground of the friends. houses, garages, They always enclosed. They may very well reject their families, but they still retain their frontier is this internal wall: it continues to tendency to seek seclusion. Today's exist even though it no longer has much to protect. in the life around Conclusion In the so-called post-industrial age of the mid twentieth century, the public sector of the nineteenth century collapsed and people thought they could fill the the private, family, sector. They thus demanded that the void by extending see to it that the their demanded love all needs. passionate provide family They of Tristan and Yseult and the tenderness of Philemon and Baucis; they saw the
family as a place for raising children, but, at the same time, as a means of

love. They considered the in a prolonged network of exclusive keeping were to a self-sufficient at times unit, they willing enlarge the though family circle to include a few close friends. In the family they hoped to recover the to experience the pleasures of family warmth; from nostalgic world of Jalna and the private fortress of the family car they sought to discover the world outside. And they cherished the family as a place for all the childish things that continue even beyond childhood. These trends were intensified by the baby boom. Since on on emotions, on then, the family has had a monopoly raising children, and to is the members its This time. leisure family's tendency monopolize filling way of coping with the decline of the public sector. One can well imagine the them
uneasiness and intolerance that the situation has created.

a crisis, this people today often claim that the family is undergoing Although an accurate what is of is not, properly speaking, happening. Rather, description functions we are witnessing the inability of the family to fulfill all the many





with which

it has been invested, no doubt temporarily, during the past half if is this of the family correct, my analysis century. Moreover, overexpansion role is a result of the decline of the city and of the urban forms of social intercourse that it provided. The twentieth-century world has post-industrial so far, either to sustain the forms of social intercourse of the been unable, in their place. The family has had to nineteenth century or to offer something take over in an impossible situation; the real roots of the present domestic crisis lie not in our families, but in our cities.