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Sociological Theories of the Family

4. Feminist Approaches

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we explore feminist approaches to the family, focusing in particular on: (i) the idea that as well as being a vital place of care and comfort, the family can also be a source of inequality and exploitation; (ii) the extent to which inequalities within the family are perpetuated by the state, e.g. unequal maternity/paternity leave; (iii) the extent to which the development of capitalism has brought about a much sharper distinction between domestic work (seen as the female sphere) and paid work outside of the house (seen as the male sphere); (iv) the work of Ann Oakley on housework, and the concept of the 'second shift'; (v) the work of Marjorie DeVault on foodwork, and the idea that the 'good mum' is someone that cooks, cleans, etc.; (vi) the concept of emotional labour, and the extent to which women are 'household managers' even if they don't do tasks directly themselves; (vii) the work of Sharon Hays and the concept of 'intensive mothering'; and (viii) the work of feminist scholars on the 'dark side' of family life, including domestic violence and child abuse.

– A. Oakley, The Sociology of Housework (1974)
– M. L. DeVault, Feeding the Family: The Social Organization of Caring as Gendered Work (1991)
– S. Hays, The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (1996)


In this course, Dr Vicki Harman (University of Surrey) explores the sociology of the family. In the first lecture, we think about the different ways in which we might define the word 'family', as well as considering some of the alternative concepts that have found currency in recent sociological research, e.g. 'household', 'personal life'. In the second lecture, we look at functionalist approaches to the family. In the third lecture, we explore Marxist theories of the family. Next, we think about feminist approaches to the family. In the fifth lecture, we consider how the nature of the family and of family life has changed over time. In the sixth and final lecture, we think about the concepts of 'family practices' and 'family display', including the work of David Morgan and Janet Finch.


Dr Vicki Harman is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Surrey. Her research interests include family life, motherhood and gender. She is co-editor of Feeding Children Inside and Outside the Home (2019) and Mothering, Mixed Families and Racialised Boundaries (2015), and author of The Sexual Politics of Ballroom Dancing (2018).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Harman, V. (2021, August 23). Sociological Theories of the Family - Feminist Approaches [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Harman, V. "Sociological Theories of the Family – Feminist Approaches." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Aug 2021,

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