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Critical thoughts on the idea of family breakdown

Puls, Joy (1999) Critical thoughts on the idea of family breakdown. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The idea that the family is breaking up, breaking down, failing, in decline, or otherwise in trouble, is not the only view that is expressed about family in the 1990s, but it is one that prevails in public sector discourse. It is a strong idea, a concept, which emerged in its present form in response to the sharp increases experienced in Australia - and other Western nations in the period since the 1960s - in rates of divorce, births outside marriage, and the formation of single parent families. The idea of family breakdown, comes complete with the belief that what has happened to the family in the post-sixties period, has generally happened to the detriment of those involved and society at large. Children are said to have their psychological, emotional, and educational development impaired in the wake of family breakdown, female sole parents to become trapped in lives of poverty and disadvantage, and divorced men, to suffer emotionally, and to face increased risk of physical illness. According to the arguments of some sectors, the link between increased family breakdown and increased levels of crime within a given society is causal and clear.

In this thesis I seek to 'undo' this broad and powerful concept. I aim to unravel it, to split it up into its main dimensions or elements. I examine in detail the main ways in which divorce and single parent family structure have featured as problems in the public domain in Australia in recent decades. I examine concerns about the state of the contemporary family that are expressed by public figures, policy makers, research professionals and experts - concerns that are accepted by and reflected in the current affairs media. I identify several different 'types' or genres of concern about the family and, for each, draw attention to how family breakdown features in their debates - to what it signifies. I examine what the consequences of increasing breakdown are argued by politicians and experts to be, and how this knowledge of the consequences has itself been arrived at or produced. I develop a number of lines of critique of the various representations of family breakdown that I discuss. Each of these lines of critique aims to elaborate and support an overall critical point made in the thesis, concerning the lingering normativity of the two parent, heterosexual model of family.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Harris, Patricia
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