The Family An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Project
Family, whether defined by blood or choice, is commonly the most significant bond in our lives. However, the meanings and functions of family vary significantly between individuals, cultures and historical periods. In the most basic terms, family is a framework by which people with biological ties cooperate to facilitate not only their own survival but also the longevity of their genetic inheritance. Members of a family are able to pool resources, share labour and protect each other in a way that is not often possible for individuals alone. On this basis, family has generally been understood in terms of a financial arrangement and as a match intended to produce hearty offspring that can survive to provide for the welfare of their parents. In this formulation, the question of whether family members feel emotional affinity for each other is a secondary consideration, if not entirely irrelevant.
Even in families related by blood—notwithstanding the old adage about blood being thicker than water—differences in beliefs and interests can result in family members drifting apart or actively ostracising each other. As evidenced by countless fiction and non-fiction books, plays, films and television shows on the subject, family run the gamut from providing positive environments that support the self-actualisation of members to exposing members to damaging, toxic influences that can have lasting effects on everyone involved.
A more rounded perspective on family recognises that the ties that bind members together have a powerful emotional dimension. Alternative families formed voluntarily through emotional ties have offered another option for connection, a family comprised of people with no blood connection bound solely on the basis of love. These alternative families offer a means of compensating for, or escaping from, toxic relationships among blood relatives.
Regardless of whether particular family experiences are positive or negative, the omnipresence of references to family in society suggests a widespread belief that family is generally regarded as beneficial, special and ultimately central to our identity as human beings. Societal pressure to have a family, the specific design and marketing of products and services for families, imperatives for environments to be ‘family-friendly’, and arguments about (re)defining or protecting the family are just some examples of the way the concept of family has acquired ideological, social and political significance that affects the general public. Family can be a unifying bond, but it can also be used as a tool for creating divisions between “us” and “them” or signalling the acceptance of certain types of relationships.
This raises important questions about the nature and benefits of family, whether the flaws associated with family can be overcome, whether ‘family’ is a social good that should be protected and, if so, what tangible action can be taken across disciplines, professions and practices to reshape the meaning of family in more positive terms. The Family conference recognises the need for inter-disciplinary dialogue, partly with a view to form an innovative selective publication and welcomes submissions dealing with any aspect of family, including but not limited to: