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Understanding family meanings
A reflective text

Jane Ribbens McCarthy, Megan Doolittle, Shelley Day Sclater
Hardback, 296 pages, 240 x 172 mm
Other formats available
14 Mar 2012


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North America customers can order this book here from the University of Chicago Press.

"A compelling and accessible book, Understanding family meanings combines conceptual sophistication with intriguing examples and helpful exercises. Highly recommended, it will be interest to undergraduate sociology and family studies students in general."
Jaber F. Gubrium, University of Missouri
"Understanding family meanings inspires the reader to reflect on the fluid and dynamic nature of contemporary families. It is an important new contribution to the literature as it highlights the multiplicity of meanings associated with families depending on context."
Bahira Sherif Trask, University of Delaware

About This Book

Family Studies is a key area of policy, professional and personal debate. Perhaps precisely because of this, teaching texts have struggled with how to approach this area, which is both 'familiar' and also contentious and value laden. This innovative and reflective book deals with such dilemmas head-on, through its focus on family meanings in diverse contexts in order to enhance our understanding of everyday social lives and professional practices. Drawing on extracts and research by leading authors in the field of family studies, Understanding Family Meanings provides the reader with an overview of the basic concepts and theories related to families using readings with questions and analysis to encourage reflection and learning. Published in association with The Open University, the book centralises the question what is 'family' and focuses on family meanings as the key underpinnings for academic study and professional training. It explores the shifting and subtle ways in which individuals, researchers, policy-makers and professionals make sense of the idea of 'family' and in doing so considers issues of power, inequality and values which are integral to any understanding of family meanings. Audio discussions with leading authorities in the field are also available online to enhance the content and key concepts of the book. It therefore provides an excellent foundation for any module in family studies, as well as all professional training modules that include attention to families and close relationships, and for further learning in the area of families and relationships.

Author Biography

Jane Ribbens McCarthy is Reader in Family Studies at The Open University. She is an internationally established scholar on family and relationship studies and has helped to shape family sociology in significant ways over the years. She is currently Co-Director of the Families and Relationships programme within the Open University's prestigious Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance. Megan Doolittle is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at The Open University in London. She is a social historian with interests in histories of the family, fatherhood, contemporary families and their alternatives, domestic space and family life, and relationships between social policy and the family. Shelley Day Sclater is a freelance writer. Formerly a lawyer, an academic psychologist and Professor of Psychosocial Studies at University of East London, she now writes fiction. She has won prizes for her short stories and is the 2011 winner of the Andrea Badenoch Award for her novel-in-progress 'The Confession of Stella Moon.' She is doing the Creative Writing MA at Newcastle University.


Why family meanings?
Part 1: Research: Family meanings in contemporary contexts
Teasing the threads apart
Understanding 'family' and household through quantitative evidence
Part 2: Theories and concepts: Family discourses and family practices
Intimacy and personal life
Part 3: Contexts: Family meanings across time and space
Family meanings in social policies and professional practices
Family meanings and family values.


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