Postmodernism

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Over 30 years ago, C. Wright Mills (1959) described the post-modern period as one in which the economy would shift employment from heavy industry to non-unionized clerical, service, and new industrial sectors. He foresaw the rise of multinational corporations, trouble in the social welfare system, and decline in human freedom and choice. At that time he wondered how the human family would respond to and adjust to this new period in world history.

Post-modernism, by no means simple to define, is characterized by a "close reading" of small units rather than general theorizing about big ideas. The postmodern tends towards elaboration, eclecticism, ornamentation, and inclusiveness; it dismisses the existence of an absolute reality and is deeply suspicious of the concept of human progress (Doherty 1991). If we define the current ongoing effort to remake contemporary family life as the post-modern family, such a definition carries with it overtones from the definition of postmodern art and literature. In these fields the term post-modern signals the end of a familiar pattern of activity and emergence of new areas of endeavour whose activities are unclear and whose meanings and implications are not yet well understood. Thus, the post-modern is characterized by uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt (Stacey 1990).

Full consensus on the definition of the emerging post-modern family structure has not been reached, despite recognition of the need for better understanding of the variety of human families in the post-modern period and insight into how large-scale social patterns affect personal and domestic relationships (Hossfeld 1991).

The post-modern world is shaped by pluralism, democracy, religious freedom, consumerism, mobility, and increasing access to news and entertainment. Residents of this post-modern world are able to see that there are many beliefs, multiple realities, and an exhilarating but daunting profusion of world views - a society that has lost its faith in absolute truth and in which people have to choose what to believe (O'Hare and Anderson 1991).

In the 1970s, Shorter (1975) may have been the first to describe the emerging post-modern family. He noted three important characteristics: adolescent indifference to the family's identity; instability in the lives of couples, accompanied by rapidly increasing divorce rates; and destruction of the "nest" notion of nuclear family life with the liberation of women. At that time, Shorter noted little change in patterns of child socialization. The dramatic shift from mothers caring for young children in the home to the use of paid providers occurred soon after in the developed world, reflecting mothers' increasing workplace participation.

While single-parent, surrogate-mother, and gay and lesbian families, and other variants of the post-modern family may be viewed as the negative results of the trends described above, or as breakdown products, they also reflect the following:

1. Disillusionment with the optimistic assumptions of human progress and with the universality and the regularity of the laws of science; hence, lack of faith in the previously established order.

2. The uncoupling of economic forces underlying social conformity, such as the need for women to marry advantageously to survive financially and to transmit their class status to the next generation, or the need to bear children in wedlock for them to inherit family land or other property that would be their source of livelihood.

3. The influence of the electronic media, which both reflect and legitimize family diversity.

In addition to reducing the separations that can be imposed between people by physical distance, physical barriers, and social barriers, electronic communications and other media also foster anonymous intimacy through radio talk shows, advice columns, electronic mail, computer bulletin boards, and commercially provided advisory/counselling and other personal services...
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