The History of the Family concerns the changing interactions between family and social, political and religious structures over the last thousand years of European history. The family is usually described in terms of patterns of kinship, inheritance, and relations between sexes and generations. The author examines the contemporary use of these terms and their evolution from nineteenth-century anthropology and social thought. He then considers how these concepts apply to and reveal the nature of European and other societies. The author shows that the history of the family is crucial to the interpretation of social development. He describes and analyses the changing relationships between family and state and between family and state and between kinds of household structure, and access to property in traditional an industrial societies. He also seeks to explain the loss of independent status by women in Europe around 1100, and the rise of a male prerogative which survived almost unchallenged into the nineteenth century.
The author argues that the family and its shifting role and structure can be more readily understood if viewed as a flexible way of ordering social relationships than if it is defined as an evolving institution. This subtle and perceptive account provides the reader with a profound comprehension of a complex phenomenon basic to human societies.
James Casey is Lecturer in European Social History at the University of East Anglia. He is author of The Kingdom of Valencia in the Seventeenth Century (1979) and A Social history of Early Modern Spain.