History of the Family

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HISTORY OF THE FAMILY

David Levine

In the world we have lost, the prevaling model of family relations was derived from the Fourth Commandment injunction to honor fathers and mothers. Premodern families were supposed to be organized hierarchically along the age axis and organized patriarchally along the gender axis. This discursive conceit was deeply embedded in everyday life; alternatives to patriarchy were dishonorable because they were essentially unthinkable. Familial pluralism could only be the product of uncontrollable demography abetted by the rigidity of social hierarchies. By way of contrast, in the world we are making, familial pluralism would appear to be the product of centrifugal forces of individualism. In the age of late modernity, the family is castigated as being both repressive and antisocial. The disintegration of a uniform model of family relations is not just the result of novel discursive strategies; indeed, one analyst has estimated that there are as many as two hundred different "family" arrangements recognized by contemporary Americans and Europeans. Within these fields of forces, social experience is now widely variable. It was not always so.

Family history is complicated not only by changes over time, which have been a primary focus of research, but also by class and regional variations. This essay deals extensively with social class, including characteristic divisions between upper-class and mass patterns. Regional factors must also be kept in mind. The bulk of the work on family history concentrates on western and central Europe; southern and particularly eastern Europe have been less well served. In eastern Europe there has been more emphasis, historically, on extended family relationships as opposed to the nuclear links emphasized in the "European-style family" that emerged in the early modern period. By the late nineteenth century, however, industrialization brought eastern European, and even Russian, patterns closer to those of western and central Europe.

THE EMERGENCE OF FAMILY HISTORY

Historians have studied the family as both structure and process. Its patterns have been analyzed in terms of demographic characteristics of both individuals and the married couple, residential arrangements in the household, and kinship relations reaching beyond the walls of the primary residence. The family's changing configuration over time—its process—has been examined in relation to both the centripetal pull of collective strategies and the centrifugal force exerted by individual interests, principally those of gender and age. In addition, the family has been studied as a prescriptive image which was regulated by the exercise of power that was generated for sustaining religious and political order. Finally, it has been recognized that for most of the past millennium individual identities were created within the orbit of family life.

The explosion of social-historical writing that has occurred in the last four decades of the twentieth century has been keyed by the desire to rescue the common people of the past from the massive condescension of posterity. In urging historians to adopt this stance, E. P. Thompson was surfing the crest of a long wave. Thompson was not alone; indeed, he was part of an insurgent movement that had the common intention of writing history from the bottom up as opposed to the traditional, top-down practice of focusing on elites, governments, diplomacy, and wars as if that were all that mattered in history. The historical project was refocused and its main concern was the mundane vie quotidienne. The everyday life of anonymous people in the past became a significant concern of scholarly study.

Two key texts highlighted this first phase of family history: Philippe Ariès's Centuries of Childhood and Peter Laslett's The World We Have Lost. These two pioneers had, to quote Marc Bloch, followed "the smell of burning flesh" into the archives. Their path, however, was hardly direct—Ariès was a director of the Institute of Tropical Plants while Laslett was a political scientist who had published the definitive edition of John Locke's Two Treatises on Government. Ironically, it was in doing this editorial work that Laslett was made familiar with Locke's opponent, Robert Filmer, who was a hard-line defender of the Stuart monarchy. Filmer's arguments in favor of the divine right of Stuart kings was based on his explication of the Fourth Commandment injunction to honor fathers (and kings, too). Wanting to know more about Filmer's ideas and their relationship to the social milieu of seventeenth-century England led Laslett to do his initital research on household structure.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Ariès and Laslett are to be lionized. Their books were, at one and the same time, a demonstration of what was possible and an invitation to learn more. Laslett, in particular, devoted himself to spreading the gospel of family history by inaugurating the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, by organizing international conferences, and by continuing to publish extremely influential journal articles as well as several collections of scholarly essays. Laslett's contribution was enormous although his primary concerns with residential organization—Did people in the past live in nucleur or complex households? What was the incidence of coresidence and kinship ties? What was the relationship between illegitimacy and marriage?—hardly kept pace with the expanding frontiers of this new universe of studies which he had helped to reveal.

If Ariès and Laslett were the originators of the new field of family history, they were prolific progenitors. The most significant monograph on the subject published in the 1970s was Edward Shorter's The Making of the Modern Family. This book was not without its critics but The Making of the Modern Family was successful because Shorter had not only provided a coherent overview of the subject but had also done so by connecting the material and emotional aspects of the subject. Shorter's claims were overblown—it is not a simple matter, as he asserts, to move from high infant mortality rates to maternal indifference and neglect—but he pinpointed key connections. If later analysts would dispute his claims of maternal neglect and challenge his anachronistic quest for romantic love, he forced them to counter his claims. The subject was enlivened by Shorter's incursion even though the framework he set forth was never a dominant paradigm.

Shorter's writing on the organization of family life was written in the grammar of the borrowed language of the sentimental family which reached its apotheosis in the immediate postwar world. His historical vision reflected that time-honored disguise, bereft of a foundation in the exigencies of daily life. It is not too much to say that if this image of the sentimental family was first repeated tragically in the 1950s, then Shorter repeated it farcically. In particular, Shorter politicized the subject because he enraged feminist historians, provoking them to reply with analyses of their own. After the publication of The Making of the Modern Family, the easy verities of patriarchalism would never again be acceptable.

In response to the groundbreaking impact of Ariès's, Laslett's, and Shorter's monographs, a number of scholars began to do primary research that scholarly journals were eager to publish. These studies illuminated new and unexpected aspects of the history of the family. Many of these articles occupied a kind of scholarly no-man's-land between the recognized, disciplinary frontiers of the academy. If journals devoted to demographic studies and economic history were the most welcoming, the older mainstream publications were decidedly uninterested in this new venture. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, supply met demand in a virtuous circle of growth and expansion as new journals appeared that positively welcomed material on the history of the family.

In North America, the Journal of Social History and The Journal of Interdisciplinary History both began their lives in the wake of—and in response to—Thompson's injunction to rescue the common people from "the massive condescension of posterity." Studying history from the bottom up meant that questions of social reproduction had become problematic, which, in turn, meant that issues of biological reproduction followed suit. The turn to social history was thus complemented by a rising interest in population, demography, residential arrangements, and kinship organization. In France, the journal Annales de démographie historique began publication and although its primary concern was with historical demography, articles appeared there which were tangentially concerned with the history of the family.

Family history was on the academic map. During the 1970s, the field became closely studied and universities began to advertise for—and appoint—"historians of the family"; the Newberry Library in Chicago began its summer seminars on new research methods that enabled traditionally trained historians to borrow social scientific methods to analyze routinely generated data banks in their quest to study family history. In mid-decade, the Social Science History Association was launched; one of its primary aims was to draw together scholars from diverse academic pigeonholes who shared an interest in the history of the family.

A landmark was reached in 1976 when the Journal of Family History first appeared. However, that event did not significantly alter the characteristic borderline status of historical family studies despite the unflagging energy and boosterism of Tamara Hareven, the Journal's first editor. In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, another crop of new journals began publication that were also well disposed to printing articles on the history of the family: Social History, Histoire Sociale/Social History, Social Science History, Continuity and Change. In addition, articles on the history of the family also appeared in journals primarily devoted to agricultural history, educational history, feminist history and gender studies, labor history, modern history, and medical history. Furthermore, a complete bibliography would be studded with references to works published in journals concerned with demography and population studies, economic history, geography, marriage and the family, medieval and renaissance studies, peasant studies, and urban studies. And academic journals tied to national constituencies (American Historical Review, Canadian Historical Review, English Historical Review, and so on), devoted to particular national histories (such as Archive for Reformation History, French Historical Studies, Journal of Central European History, William and Mary Quarterly), or devoted to particular time periods (such as The Sixteenth Century Journal or Victorian Studies), all welcomed contributions that were concerned with the family's history insofar as it could be connected with their primary area of interest. True to its frontier position between established academic disciplines, the history of the family would continue to be a house of many mansions. It is quite simply impossible to do justice to the extraordinary variety of topics that assembled under the rooftree of family history.

Interest in the field mushroomed in these decades and monographic studies exploded. A tiny proportion—like Shorter—were devoted to providing an updated overview of the subject, but far and away the majority were concerned with a particular take on the larger image. Like a CAT scan, whose imaging system recursively slices through a body to analyze its inner structures, this spate of studies gave shape to the historical subject of the family once they were viewed together. Furthermore, it became quite common for historians studying local social systems to devote a chapter or two to issues that are relevant to the study of family history. Similarly, biographers' concerns with prominent individuals now had a new relevance as these studies provided further insight into the family dynamics of famous people's lives. Historians of widely different interests contributed to the subject's growth by showing how it bordered on aspects of biological, cultural, material, political, psychological, and social experience.

By 1980 a plethora of articles and monographs that touched on the history of the family had been published. The first generation had not only discovered a field of study but had also created paradigms that have been essential to its definition. Several aspects of this pioneering effort are worthy of comment:

  1. The history of the family was a recentered field of study that shifted emphasis from large-scale events and processes to the reproduction of primary social units.
  2. The issue of reproduction had become problematic in its own right as demographic studies made it evident that the modernization boilerplate associated with the Princeton Fertility Project did not do justice to the intricacies of premodern family systems.
  3. Alongside this demographic complexity, historians uncovered an assortment of residential arrangements.
  4. Within the household, family systems seemed to be connected to wealth-holding in the sense that the families of the propertyless were less coherent because the younger generation was freed from its constraints—but at the cost of having to find a haven in a heartless world.
  5. The Old Testament ideology of patriarchalism sounded like a backbeat driver to the rhythms of family life but its orchestration was attuned to a combination of factors—age, sex, wealth, residence, and occupation were recombined to create a medley of family systems.
  6. New ideologies of sexuality led to novel forms of gendering in the Victorian age which Lawrence Stone, in The Family, Sex and Marriage in England had suggested was a cyclical reassertion of early modern patriarchy but which other analysts, following Thomas Laqueur's argument in Making Sex and Michel Foucault's claims in The History of Sexuality, located in the power-knowledge techniques of medicalization and state-formation initiatives.

After two decades of exciting study, the family now had its history (Hareven, 1991; Herlihy, 1983; Lynch, 1994; Stone, 1981; and Tilly, 1987). Yet if the overall shape of this field was decidedly different from the "before/after" models first suggested by theories of modernization, and if the beauty of science lies in the details, then the historical contours of the family's history remain to be discussed. So, in the remaining sections of this essay, the history of the family will be reanalyzed in very broad chronological terms; first, the ancient and medieval period with special attention being paid to the impact of Christianity and the shift from slavery to serfdom; second, the early modern period with regard to residential organization, the biological aspects of reproduction, and the issue of family strategies; and, third, the modern period with particular heed being paid to the interventionist role of state-formation initiatives.

THE EMERGENCE OF THE EUROPEAN FAMILY

Starting with a contrast between the ways that the ancients defined individuals, David Herlihy draws our attention to the enormous implications of the transition away from antiquity. Herlihy's reorientation makes it evident that the modernization of the family was not only the product of a long evolution but also built upon very deep foundations. This meant that much of what the modernizers took for granted was problematic in the sense that it, too, needed to be explained. Christianity had made the correspondence between social harmony and sexual order problematic by radically restructuring the meaning of sexual heat; in its campaigns against infanticide, it diminished the powers of fathers; in its reorganization of religious life, it altered dramatically what it was to be male and female; in its advocacy of virginity, it proclaimed the possibility of a relationship to society and the body that most ancient doctors would have found injurious to the health. Nonetheless, in contrast to the ancient models of self-representation, Christians believed in the equality of all sinners and the necessity of conjugality for those who could not devote themselves to a monastic existence. The emergence of the family as a moral unit was linked to the Christian concern with ordo caritatis (ordered love). The love of God and salvation of one's soul outstripped all other forms of love; it was followed by the elevation of conjugal relationships.

In combination with the demise of slavery, this Christian model of marriage created a social mutation of the most profound importance. It was an explosive mixture that radically transformed the way in which the educated classes represented social reality. Herlihy's writings alert us to the fact that medieval surveyors made the humble peasant hearth and farm the standard units by which the entire community was measured. Ancient censuses had not used the household in counting subjects or in assessing their wealth but by the eighth and ninth centuries the family farm, called variously mansus, focus, familia, casata, casa massaricia (in Italy), hufe (in Germany), hide (in England), had become the basic component of manorial and fiscal assessment. Vast differences in wealth and power did not break the bonds of comparability. This uniformity indicated the emergence of a single ethic of marriage from which there could be no variant standards of behavior—or morality—within the Christian community.

Christianity proved to be a particularly felicitous partner in legitimating this state of affairs. Jack Goody argued that the fourth-century emergence of new family forms was the direct result of the transition from sect to church that was paralleled by the enactment of ecclesiastical bans on incest. In so doing the church reconfigured "strategies of heirship," and in particular the control over close marriages, those between consanguineous, affinal, and spiritual kin. These novel restrictions on the ancient practices of endogamy, adoption, and concubinage made it more difficult for the propertied classes in the Roman Empire to transfer property within the family over generations because it closed the option of creating tight, endogamous knots of restricted elementary families within which wealth could be secured in the face of demographic uncertainties.

In effect, the new institutional church thrust itself into the process of inheritance by making it both possible and attractive for the dying to divert wealth from family and kin to its coffers. Not surprisingly this created tensions between the interests of the senior generation using its earthly possessions to secure heavenly benefits and those of the junior generation more concerned with the production of material goods. Goody suggested that it was not accidental that the church appears to have condemned the very practices that would have deprived it of property. A great buildup in church wealth rapidly ensued so that by the seventh century about one-third of the productive land in France, for example, was in ecclesiastical hands. Thus it had become possible for the church to accumulate wealth—to create an endowment of property for itself—and to establish places of worship as well as fund its charitable, ecclesiastical, and residential activities.

Given the importance of Goody's controversial argument it is hardly surprising that much debate followed its publication. In essence, there have been three thrusts to this criticism: the first point has been that Goody has oversimplified the organization of family life in the pre-Christian Mediterranean by overemphasizing the importance of endogamy and paternal power; the second criticism has been that he has confused motivation for creating new rules regarding both spirituality and sexuality with the implementation of these rules that were created for their own reasons; and the third line of dissent has suggested that Goody's argument makes the mistake of fusing the church's ability to legislate in matters of family formation with its ability to enforce these laws.

Quite obviously, Goody has drawn our attention to an extremely complex historical development, although for our present purposes it is probably worthwhile to worry less about the veracity of Goody's account than to agree with his emphasis on the end product's distinctive character. Indeed, for Goody—as for others who have been interested in the history of the family—the subject has encouraged a form of regressive history in which the familiar, known systems of human reproduction are set in contrast with the unknown and unfamiliar family formations of earlier ages.

In addition to the maintenance of a stable domestic government among his dependent population, "the lord's interest in the supply of demesne labour induced him to interfere in the personal affairs of his servile dependents, extending regulation beyond the immediate tenant to include the peasant family as well." (Middleton, p. 110). It is not clear, however, to what extent this "interference" was conducted on a daily basis as opposed to the more generalized maintenance of frontiers and boundaries within the social formation. There is, for instance, no evidence that lords played an active role in pairing up peasants and acting as marriage brokers. In considering this question it is perhaps useful to remember that while the slave had been treated like an ox in the stable, who was always under his master's orders, the villein, even if he was a serf, was a worker who came on certain days and who left as soon as the job was finished.

Even before the Carolingians reorganized the governance of western society, other forces were changing its basic productive relations. The creation of peasant tenements was the result of a far-reaching innovation, a new method of utilizing dependent labor. From the end of the sixth century, great landowners married off some of their slaves, settling them on a manse. In the Carolingian period the peasant tenement (manse) seems to have had three different meanings: often, it was an enclosure on which the house was built; sometimes, it was the whole farmstead including its landed properties; and, it was also used in a generic form to denote a measurement of land. But this physical connotation was only one side of the coin; the other side was the fact that the manse was a kind of tenure, heritable in the family of the man who had cleared and worked that property. When the word first appeared around 650 it already had a strong seigneurial stamp as we learn about manses from the accounts of lords and kings who have adopted the single-family farm as the basic unit on which rents and dues were imposed. Peasant families cultivated the manse's appurtenant lands in order to feed their own families. This devolution of responsibility reduced the master's staff-maintenance costs while generating enthusiasm for work on the part of the servile task force. Slave couples were now entrusted with seeing to their childrens' upbringing themselves until they became of working age. This transformation of slaves and freemen into serfs and villeins forms the baseline from which subsequent developments materialized.

This process of settlement was not a complete novelty however; rather, Herlihy connects the manse with the ancient squatters' sovereignty and argues that there was an element of continuity in the customs governing colonization in western Europe. The work of settlement, it would seem, had to be organized in relation to the supply of willing workers at a time when capital, markets, and transport were defective. Peasant pioneers survived largely by foraging in the wilderness over those critical years until the land should fructify; willing, not driven like the slave to the sloppy performance of his sordidum servitium, and able through spontaneous effort to sustain the hard labors that colonization required.

The manse thus arose out of settlement, it was permanently in the possession of the man who worked it, it was heritable in his family although burdened with service to the owner of the land, and it was roughly equal in size. It meant a heritable tenement that was the colonizers' analogue to the landowners' property rights. The seventh-century peasantry were not taxed on their land per se, but rather they continued to fulfill personal tax obligations by cultivating the soil. The peasants' retrait lignager—the right to inheritance of villein holdings for customary tenants' families—was a crucial counterweight to the arbitrary power of seigneurs. In a sense this was a quid pro quo—it gave the lord a solid core of reliable tenants who had some interest in the vitality of the manor while it gave the peasant patriarchs the semblance of control over their property thereby entrenching their power within the manse. And, of course, the peasant patriarch was given control over the women and children under his cottage's roof.

If the peasantry—90 percent of the population—were defined by their relationship to the primary means of production (the soil), the thin upper crust was defined by its relationship to power. And the primary indicator of a family's power was its hold over land. In making this argument, Herlihy draws our attention to Georges Duby's landmark studies of family formation in France around the year 1000. By then Christianity had radically broken away from its Judaic and pagan inheritance in separating descent from reproduction. Christianity was from its beginnings a religion of revelation which believers joined by being reborn in Christ's grace. For Christians, therefore, expectations of salvation were not linked with lineage nor were the achievements of ancestors passed on to descendants. For this reason—because charisma was not transmitted through priestly dynasties—Christians were not enjoined to maintain the patriliny as a religious task nor were they expected to continue the cult of the dead through physical or fictitious descendants. Formal marriage rules were an indicator of deeper, more important changes in the way in which the world was understood. This changed around the year 1000.

The key aspect of knightly survival was a new form of inheritance which limited descent to the eldest male heir. Patrimonies were thereby maintained intact rather than being divided and subdivided as had been the case before the year 1000. The conjugal family was only a single cell of a larger organism, the lineage. The shift from clan to lineage—from extended to dynastic family—was a relatively gradual process. The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 captures this transition in a snapshot. It must be seen as involving not simply the replacement of one aristocracy by another but also the replacement of one set of family relationships by another, a change not merely in personnel, not merely in all those external relations of the aristocracy, but a change in internal organization, in familial structure, in assumptions about property. Before the Normans, English surnames were neither hereditary nor toponymic; after the Battle of Hastings it became possible to identify individual families—their history and their fortunes—by their property.

The whirlwind of military energy that flung the Normans across the length and breadth of Europe in a few generations satisfied the ambitions of brothers and younger sons through the establishment of colonial lineages in their vanquished territories. Behind the fictions of lineal descent, most members of this new upper strata were "men raised from the dust" whose primary characteristics had been their loyalty to the Crown and their luck in staying onside through all the twists and turns of civil war, attempted parricide, and fratricide. Those who were disobedient lost everything—at the time of Magna Carta, only four of the twenty-one family heads among the Twenty-Five Barons could trace their lineage back to the Conquest, 150 years earlier. And, of course, many lines simply did not reproduce themselves in the male line. Indeed, only one family lineage that was prominent in pre-Conquest Normandy was still influential in early thirteenth-century England.

Clerical intervention followed a few decades after the secular ruling class had radically shifted its marriage strategies through the exercise of strict control of the lineal patriarch over his sons and daughters. Their new system of primogeniture effectively reduced the possibility of dividing the patrimony and thereby played a crucial role in the invention of family traditions. At the same time, however, the Gregorian church's fear of incest was based on the view that consanguineous marriages occurred among kin related to the seventh degree. This was an awkward and essentially unenforceable rule: who was not someone else's sixth cousin among the aristocracy? Jean-Louis Flandrin has computed that someone who followed these rules would have had at least 2,731 cousins of his/her own generation with whom marriage would have been forbidden. It was therefore expedient for noble husbands to discover they were living in sin and to demand a divorce or annulment; the historical record is full of such discoveries which usually occurred—fortuitously, no doubt—when the marriage was without children or when political realities swiftly changed in an unexpected fashion. In 1215, at the Fourth Lateran Council, the ruling on incest was amended so that marriages outside the fourth degree of kin were ruled nonconsanguineous. By bringing canon law into line with social reality there was a much greater chance that marriage could be made indissoluble; at the very least, a spurious divorce would be more difficult to obtain for the rich and powerful.

The insistence on clerical celibacy prevented the creation of a hereditary caste of priestly scholars. In each generation, the clergy was sustained by the donation of oblates to holy orders. This had two very significant implications: first, literacy was not confined to a self-perpetuating caste but was widely dispersed among the children of the whole population from whom the clergy was recruited; and, second, it brought the clerical aristocracy and the secular aristocracy to a common ground. Great lords frequently donated one of their sons to the church; such endowments were inspired partly by piety and partly as form of familial insurance. By the end of the twelfth century there was a shared bond of common interest between landlords, who sought an orderly system of inheritance, and the clerics who were trying to enforce Christian monogamy. Aristocracts were prepared for most purposes to be subject to clerical control—"not only in fits of penitence, but actually when making marriage treaties affecting their inheritances and standing in the world. This was largely because legitimate monogamy had come to be the heart of the system of inheritance, as it was to be the heart of the Church's idea of marriage as an institution." (Brooke, p. 154)

While much attention inevitably devolves upon the marital alliances and strategies of the upper class, it would seem that the post-Gregorian church's new marriage policies had a significant resonance for the lower orders. In establishing the centrality of consent in the making of a Christian marriage, the canon law of marriage made the marital union easy to create, endowed it with serious consequences, and made divorce difficult. This was exactly the opposite of the situation prevailing in both Roman and barbarian law. The Christian desire to evangelize the servile population and draw it into the cultural domain of the church was founded on a remarkably democratic principle: all men and women—no matter whether free or servile—were considered to be morally responsible agents whose sins were an abomination in the sight of God. Is it merely coincidental that the creation of a radically new system of marriage was installed at exactly the same time that the last vestiges of slavery were disappearing from northern Europe? The post-Gregorian church's marriage policies were deliberately fashioned to help the lower orders avoid the sins of concupiscence and adultery, at the cost of abridging the rights of feudal lords to control the intimate lives of their dependent, servile population.

NEW TRENDS IN THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD

The advent of the printing press is indirectly responsible for shifting our frame of reference in studying the early modern history of the family. Moveable-type presses made it possible to create printed records that, when production was routinized, provided new sources for studying the subject. Ironically, this impact was indirect as most of the parish registers and census-type enumerations were handwritten, but these were produced in response to a massive ratcheting up of the administrative technologies of early modern state-formation.

Renaissance states began to make it a requirement that the state's church record all baptisms (births), burials (deaths), and marriages that were celebrated in each parish. The primary reason for doing this was that it was in keeping with the Renaissance state's novel desire to intensify its surveillance over the subject population. These parish registers supplied the raw material that enabled the study of historical demography to enjoy enormous growth in the 1970s and early 1980s. The two most crucial questions that the demographers addressed related to age at first marriage for women and levels of mortality. In the nature of things, family reconstitution studies also provided information about fertility rates—both illegitimate and marital—and birth control.

The most significant finding to emerge from the first generation of primary research into parish registers was that early modern women married about a decade after puberty, in their mid-twenties. Wealth played a small role in marital strategies—it was usual for propertied young women to be married at an early age, whereas if they had no property they were more likely to be on their own and marry at a later age—but both rich and poor belonged to a common culture of family values. To marry, a couple need some level of capital and this meant that a period of enforced saving usually acted to extend the courtship as money had to be set aside to outfit a home, albeit in a minimal fashion. Propertyless women, therefore, usually married at a later age, which often meant that they were also marrying away from the close scrutiny of their natal families. For them, the peer group played a crucial role in courtship rituals, the marriage ceremony, and the wedding celebrations. The emergence of a distinctive "European-style family" sums up some of the special features of marriage ages and rates in the majority of the population.

Arranged marriages were hardly unknown but they were much more likely to occur when significant dynastic or property considerations gave the older generation reasons to intervene in the decision-making process. In fact, for those youths who were wealthy enough to attract this kind of close concern from their elders it was often the case that the Christian right to marital choice was narrowed to a kind of veto power over the alternatives offered to them by concerned parents and/or guardians. The key point is that very few marriages took place between partners who had not met before they knelt together in front of the altar.

For many, this late age at first marriage meant that a significant amount of time was spent outside the parents' residence; service was a common experience among the lower classes as children and their labor were shifted upward from the propertyless to the propertied. An ancillary implication of this demographic system was that it gave enormous rationale in support of the patriarchal homilies drawn from the Fourth Commandment to honor fathers and mothers by extending its meaning to fictive parents. In early modern England, France, and, especially, Germany, there was an extensive literature that commented upon patriarchalism and the housefather's relationship to state-formation: as Filmer knew in his bones, the king was the father of his people in the same way that the head of the household was the father-figure of both the natural and fictive children who lived in his cottage. This patriarchal definition of identities was one of the primary reasons why the man who assumed the identity of Martin Guerre was executed as a traitor—Arnaud de Tilh had called into question the God-given order of society. Therefore, a traitor's death was not only logical but also just in the legal mind-set of the sixteenth century.

Mortality was high in the parish register populations but it has been found to be the product of three factors: epidemic disease, which was a constant threat; residential location—cities and even densely packed villages were hospitable environments for microorganisms that attacked defenseless babies without mercy; and maternal nursing practices. Women who breast-fed their children had much, much lower levels of infant mortality than those who began feeding them on solids almost immediately after birth. Childbirth and childrearing were the primary experiences of most adult women for most of their adult lives. Nursing had a significant bearing on family life not only because it kept children alive longer but also because it was correlated with longer birth intervals. Families in which the mother nursed for as long as thirty months usually had fewer births and more survivors.

In contrast to the silent treatment given to nursing practices, illegitimacy, which was most decidedly a minority experience, has been the subject of a large number of articles. In part, this is a reflection of the impact of Shorter's arguments—and the desire to refute them. In addition, the subject has been easier to study as there were discrete legal prohibitions and sanctions levied against single mothers. To be sure, toward the end of the early modern age—after 1750—rates of illegitimacy skyrocketed, but it is important to keep in mind that during the 1500 to 1750 period the ratio of illegitmate to legitmate births hovered around 1 percent.

Fertility statistics have also been gleaned from family reconstitution studies. The most significant finding has been a negative one—with a few exceptions, most couples practiced unregulated intercourse. For demographers, this state of affairs suggested that their fertility was "natural" but, of course, matters are not as simple as that. Indeed, there was nothing natural about "natural fertility" since optimal levels were only about one-third the level that could be achieved by fertility maximizers. Rather, natural fertility was the product of a variety of cultural and biological adjustments as couples sought to optimize their family size—not maximize it.

Unfortunately, however, we know almost nothing about sexual habits or the intimacies of married life. Lawrence Stone tried to get at these secrets but he was stymied by the fact that all but a few upper-class, diary-keeping males say anything about their conquests. Few commented on their day-to-day activity in the marital bed. No women spoke of these matters, even to their own locked diaries. What went on in the peasants' cottages—or in the fields surrounding them, for that matter—is a matter of surmise; guesswork, really. Shorter, for example, postulated that plebeian sexuality was Hobbesian—nasty, brutish, and short—rather than playful, but his examples are drawn from middle-class, urban missionaries who saw only darkness and ignorance among the peasantry. By and large, therefore, the early modern marital bed is a terra incognita of historical analysis.

After Thomas Robert Malthus had published his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798 it became something of a bourgeois parlor game to suggest that the lower orders were oversexed and underresponsible but, in point of fact, not much is to be learned about plebeian sexuality from this nineteenth-century, blame-the-victim discourse. The new rhetoric of sexuality that emerged with the medicalization of social relations suggested that respectable women were passionless but that lower-class women tended to be more "masculine" and, therefore, more at the mercy of their passions. In the 1867 Report on the Employment of Children, Young Persons and Women in Agriculture, for example, it was claimed that "Not only does it [i.e., agricultural labor] almost unsex a woman in dress, gait, manners, character, making her rough coarse, clumsy and masculine; but it generates a further very pregnant mischief by infitting or indisposing her for a woman's proper duties at home." At the heart of the writers' concerns is a worry that the supposed "natural" character of rural, proletarian women was threatened by "masculine" work. Such women would not only be "unsexed" but also socially deranged since they would be indisposed to "a woman's proper duties at home."

This notion of "a woman's proper duties at home" had a different meaning from what earlier generations understood to be the proper ordering of a family and household. By the high Victorian period, the privatized family had been by and large divorced from production, becoming instead the matrix for biological and social reproduction, consumption, and sentimentality. In order to understand what earlier generations had experienced as family life it is necessary to look at the literature concerning "family strategies" that enjoyed a substantial vogue from the early 1970s through the late 1980s. The concept's popularity really took off in response to Shorter's many articles that preceded the appearance of The Making of the Modern Family in 1975. Louise Tilly and Joan Scott wrote two articles (one of which was coauthored with Miriam Cohen) and a book (Women, Work, and Family) that were directly aimed at countering Shorter's assertions of female passivity and economic marginality. Their work enjoyed enormous celebrity because it not only provided a credible reply to Shorter but also showed a way forward to women's historians (and I use the term "women's historians" advisedly because in the 1970s the concepts of "feminist history" and/or "gender history" were not yet widely current).

The Tilly-Scott argument began with the proposition that Shorter's vision of the pre- and early industrial family was anachronistic because he neglected the ways that subsistence imperatives overlapped into the private sphere. Beginning from the basic fact that more than half the European population was either completely landless or else living on a marginal piece of property, Tilly and Scott were able to show that much of Shorter's discussion of courtship strategies was beside the point as more than half the population did not engage in marital alliances. Next, by looking into the basic ways the majority's catch-as-catch-can family economy functioned to piece together a subsistence income—Olwen Hufton had called this "an economy of makeshifts"—Tilly and Scott demonstrated that plebeian women held up more than half their family's economy through their involvement in marketing, gardening, petty farming, fowl-keeping, looking after the family pig, and various forms of protoindustrial production. By looking at what plebeian women did—as opposed to what middle-class, urban, male social commentators said about them—Tilly and Scott presented a vastly different reconstruction of the historical experience of plebeian family life.

The Tilly-Scott emphasis on protoindustrialization neatly dovetailed with one of the other preeminent concerns of family historians of the late 1970s and 1980s. Beginning with Franklin Mendels's 1972 article, the study of industrialization before the classic industrial revolution became a hot topic. In part, this newfound interest could be linked with a pervasive unease at the earlier explanations of "the take-off into self-sustained growth" that had been popularized by cold warriors like W. W. Rostow and, in part, comparative studies among the English, continential European, and Third World experiences of industrialization were making it evident that the prehistory of the classic industrial revolution was a subject of extraordinary importance. Industrialization did not just happen in the weeks after Richard Arkwright set up the first spinning mills, based on ideas purloined from the rural spinners who had sat in his barber's chair in Lancashire in the 1760s.

To rephrase Rostow's image: reaching a threshold of economic preparation along the runway now seemed to be more significant that the actual takeoff. This lead-up took on even more significance as Raphael Samuel made it clear that during the classic industrial revolution much of the actual production was still based on subdivided handicrafts; for almost two generations, steam power had been limited in its application to production routines in machine spinning. Outside the textile industry, steam power was even less significant for even longer. Curiously, however, while the subdivision of labor was fully appreciated there has been little study of the ways in which skill was transmitted; labor historians prize skill (as did the laborers they study) yet they have been reluctant to explore how it was reproduced. Educational historians, who should be concerned with skills-learning, are abysmally silent about it.

The protoindustrial family economy captured social historians' imaginations for a variety of reasons: first, it conferred agency on the lower classes in keeping with the Thompsonian injunction to rescue them from the massive condescencion of posterity; second, it recentered the practice of social history away from great men and great events and toward the strategies of reproduction which the popular classes employed in their everyday life; third, it gave a logic to the study of demographic trends and family formation systems as well as connecting the study of domestic organization to a narrative structure; fourth, it made sense in terms of the reevaluation of industrialization that was current among economic historians; and, fifth, it provided historians with a way of demonstrating that family history could not simply be read off a sociological template, such as that provided by modernization theories. The past needed to be studied on its own terms.

Beginning with the point that proletarianization was the dominant process in the majority of plebeian families well before tie industrial revolution, social historians of the family discovered a new kind of past. The exigencies of work and material life assumed a primordial importance. Instead of the well-housed, well-fed patriarchal family of the peasantry—the English yeomen, the German bauern, or the French laboureurs—social historians introduced us to masterless men, independent women, and cultures of misrule in which youths of both sexes (though predominantly males) turned the social world upside down, mocking their elders and their elders' conventions. In particular, charivaris were occasions for mocking "inappropriate" marriages and publicly shaming those housefathers who were less than masterful. In place of residential stability, social historians discovered a lost world of footlooseness, wandering, and mobility. Oddly, however, studies of marital breakdown and desertion have never been pursued in a systematic manner.

For most members of the lower classes, the long years of service between puberty and marriage was a life-cycle phase when fathers and mothers were fictive, not genuine parents. Rather than a Bible-reading patriarch sternly disciplining his household, the plebeian family seemed to be a more contingent arrangement. Kinship, too, seems to have been looser among the propertyless than among their betters, whether in the middling sort or the upper classes. Furthermore, it seemed that the protoindustrial family had its own peculiar demographic dynamic: freed from the constraints of property transmission, men and women were able to contract marriage at an earlier age. The first family reconstitution studies of Belgium and the English Midlands pointed toward a protoindustrial family that was reproducing itself vigorously while streams of migrants from rural regions supplemented their rising numbers. In rural industrial regions, the countryside thickened as workers' cottages were built, quite literally overnight.

The key to protoindustrial demography was thought to have been a falling age at first marriage for women, which meant that generations followed one another more closely while families were reproducing for a longer period of time. In addition, there are hints in the data that illegitimacy rates were higher, more protoindustrial brides were pregnant at marriage, and levels of marital fertility stayed up rather than slumping as women got older. What seemed strikingly evident from simulation exercises was that massive shifts in annual rates of growth would have resulted from relatively small declines in the age at first marriage for women. David Levine's original study of Shepshed was designed to capture one such community. While it would be a mistake to generalize as if all Europe was Shepshed, it is a far graver mistake to miss the point that even if only a fraction of the original proletarians living in Europe in 1750 fully and completely took on these new characteristics—or if all took on some of these behavioral changes to only some degree—then we can explain the observed growth within the parameters of the model propounded by Hans Medick, Jürgen Schlümbohm, and Peter Kriedte's "theory of protoindustrialization."

Changes in the early modern period, particularly by the eighteenth century, also involved shifts in emotional definitions. Without arguing that premodern families were devoid of emotion, it does seem that emotional expectations for parent-child as well as spousal relationships began to increase by the seventeenth century. Protestantism played a role, as did the commercialization of the economy, which prompted more attention to emotional support within the family. Love was redefined and gained a greater role, for example in choices of marriage partners, while anger within the household was newly criticized. How much these changes entered daily relationships, and what the pattern was among various social classes, continue to be debated. But the emotional emphasis would continue into the modern period, particularly as some of the economic and production functions of the family declined when work moved outside the home.

THE NINETEENTH CENTURY AND INDUSTRIALIZATION

When the debates surrounding the prolific power of protoindustrialists peaked in the early-middle 1980s, they were superseded by new concerns about the ways in which gender was organized. In part, this new concern derived from the increasing pressure of feminist historians to distance themselves from the now-older issues of women's history; and, in part, it gained inspiration from the writings of Michel Foucault whose influence was at its height at this time. Foucault's writings provided a fertile ground for exploring issues of identity formation, which began to take the place of materialist concerns with family strategies and socioeconomic change as the driving force of historical analysis. The key text in this historiographical shift, Family Fortunes, was written by Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, who set out to explore how two sets of English middle-class women's lives were organized by changing images of gender. While they paid close attention to the material forces that influenced the lives of the female Cadburys of Birmingham and the Taylors of Essex, the most exciting parts of their argument derived from Davidoff and Hall's close attention to the ways these women fashioned and represented themselves in accommodating the exigencies of social change. As they write,

The concept of purity had taken on a special resonance for women partly because of fears associated with the polluting powers of sexuality. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the middle class was their concern with decorum in bodily functions and cleanliness of person. Thus, maintaining purity and cleanliness was both a religious goal and a practical task for women. (Davidoff and Hall, p. 90)

This point is tremendously important in the Victorian emphasis on women's roles as mothers—as opposed to the early modern concern with women as wives. Such women were enjoined to make their homes a safe haven in a heartless world. And, as Davidoff and Hall write, it was a task that was taken on with a religious fervor. It should be added that emphasis on this new orientation in middle-class women's self-definition was accompanied by a missionary desire to implant these behaviors on those below them in the social structure whose family lives were thought to be backward, crude, and primitive.

This argument is superbly demonstrated by the historical anthropologists Orvar Löfgren and Jonas Frykman, whose work compares and contrasts family life among the peasantry, the proletariat, and the middle classes in Oscarian Sweden. The confidence of the bourgeoisie in labeling other behaviors as backward, crude, and primitive provided an enormous impetus to social reform. Lower-class families were to be the object of surveillance and those whose behavior was not in conformity with the new standards were to be the object of state-sanctioned policing. At the heart of this vision, then, is the arrogation of truth by the instrumentality of social reason which takes place alongside the marginalization of those who do not—or will not—conform. Exercising control through the discipline of the body, the mind, and the soul is one of the key themes in modern history. The internalization of discipline was part of a long and arduous process of education which was an extremely protracted issue in the making of modern societies.

In the course of the early modern period, this technology of the self was severed from both religion and its patrician class origins; self-examination became popularized as the real way of life, not just a formalized set of ritual observances in the charge of specialists. The modern state has bureaucratized self-policing by incorporating it into the daily life of its citizens—from cradle to grave—and by cloaking it in the positivistic mantle of medical science. The regulatory thrust of this command structure was built upon deep foundations; in this regard, nineteenth-century state-formation was modern in that it was able to avail itself of new institutions, new techniques, and new technologies while deploying these strategies against a fundamentally new class.

The family axis in this way became both more narrowly construed and more attentively policed. It became the site for sentiment-building in some of the trends at the end of the early modern period. In it, the most rigourous techniques of repressive discipline, as Michel Foucault writes, "were formed, and, more particularly, applied first, with the greatest intensity, in the economically privileged and politically dominant classes." He further states that "what was formed was a political ordering of life, not through an enslavement of others, but through an affirmation of self" so that "it has to be seen as the self-affirmation of one class rather than the enslavement of another: a defense, a protection, a strengthening, and an exaltation that were eventually extended to others—at the cost of different transformations—as a means of social control and political subjugation." (Foucault, p. 120)

Resistance to this disciplinary project was based on something more than an irrational adherence to tradition. Family formation strategies were not reflex actions; they represented something deeper that adapted to changing pressures by assimilating what was needed and rejecting the rest. In an age of revolution, the pressures to adapt became more intense and the resistance to change more complex. In the course of adapting themselves to change, both discursive and behavioral practices were being beaten on the anvil of plebeian resistance with the hammer of bourgeois prescription and so came to develop a shape of their own.

In place of the independent paternal authority that characterized the early modern family—and provided the organizing metaphor for its political theory—the modern state apparatus permeated domestic space. Coincident with the fertility decline, a new disciplinary complex congealed; orchestrated by the state, the helping professions coordinated the application of power and knowledge in the daily lives of the citizenry. Teachers, social workers, psychologists, and the whole battery of social welfare agencies were created from a patchwork of voluntary institutions that had previously been called upon to aid the sick and infirm.

Under the mantle of professionalization, the job of interpretation devolved into the province of a new technology of the self staffed by "the directors of conscience, moralists and pedagogues." Foucault writes, "the discovery of the Oedipus complex was contemporaneous with the juridical organization of loss of parental authority." (Foucault, pp. 128, 130). This reconstituted family became not just the locus of what Foucault calls "bio-power" (and which might be termed "human capital formation" to conform to Anglo-American understanding) but also, and inevitably, the apparatus through which the practical regimen of reproduction was carried out. The reproduction of "bio-power" was thus both the means and the end of the revolution in the family. Foucault's insistence on the nature of power relations in the politics of family formation provides an important dimension to the processes of social change within which the decline of fertility, class formation, compulsory schooling, social welfare, and democratization occurred. The hallmark of this new knowledge-politics was the state's enhanced powers of surveillance—to police, supervise, discipline, punish, and reward. The growth of a state apparatus concerned with human capital speaks very much to this point. Indeed, it provides the glue that joins together the public and the private, the social and the individual.

The fundamental sites of this new disciplinary program were the public school and the private family. The proletarian family was revolutionized in the course of the transition from early modern to modern times, when the proletariat became the overwhelming majority in the European population. The working-class household became the site of social and biological reproduction, not production, and in the process it came to be judged by the quantity and the quality of its product—human capital. We can see the prehistory of this transformation in the debates on police and charity initiated by the early modern political arithmeticians and political economists, but it was not until two centuries later that the institutional instruments were put in place to realize this Malthusian positivity, the modern family.

Faced with recalcitrance and outright resistance from plebeians, social disciplinarians sought recourse to the courts and argued that it was both a social and an individual good to break up immoral family units. When a child's "home environment" is deemed "unsatisfactory" a huge caseload of bureaucratic paper is developed by a team of "experts" (in the helping professions) while the threat of constant intrusion into a "problem family" remains as long as their file is "active." This was the field of moral force within which the massive expansion of compulsory schooling orbited.

Many of the social functions of the working-class family—education, health, and welfare—were superseded by the aggressively intrusive actions of the modern state while its productive functions were redefined by industrial capitalism. The restructuring of the social relations of production—as a result of the exclusionary tactics of trade unionization and a renewed patriarchy which privileged adult males—was intimately connected with the implosion of the working-class family as women and children were removed from the world of work. The restriction of working-class fertility was another tactic by which the labor supply was controlled when the cost of its reproduction began to soar and even teenaged children were removed from productive, waged-work and kept in school by the rules and regulations of the state. It was only in these radically transformed circumstances—not just in response to the prescriptions urged upon them by respectable moralizers—that the working-class family reorganized itself. But it would be misleading to suggest that it was able either to resist or to ignore the prescriptive demands of the moralizing modernizers. We can see the impact of this intrusion most clearly in the changing life cycles and gender roles of its members.

In contrast to the corporate life cycle of its predecessors, the urban proletariat was decidedly modern in that its children stayed at home until marriage. Marriage was itself predicated on the ideal of the male breadwinner and the domestication of the wife/mother. The commodification of labor-power, and the concomitant devaluation of skill, compressed the life cycle of the proletariat. Instead of a two-phase transition from childhood to youth and then from youth to adulthood—the first marked by leaving home and the second by marriage—which characterized the corporate life cycle (as well as its rural equivalent of service), the proletarian life cycle was marked by a single transition in which leaving home and marriage were squeezed together.

The huddling of working-class families was necessitated by the disintegration of older modes of production and compounded by the massive increase in the supply of labor as a result of the demographic revolution. On one hand, adult male workers lost control of the labor process while on the other they lost control over their patriarchal family capital. In these circumstances, by the end of the nineteenth century, it was possible for only a tiny minority of labor aristocrats to approximate the male breadwinner ideal urged upon them by the dictates of proletarian claims of respectability in concert with the bourgeois chorus of Malthusian moralizing.

The transformation of demographic behavior was strongly influenced by the way in which those who had been marginalized made their own history. It was their proactivity—expressed in demographic terms by their recourse to fertility control (for their own reasons it must be added) and expressed in social terms by their rising expectations for inclusion in both civil and consumer society—that acted as the sorcerer's apprentice, transforming the task facing our historical Sisyphus. This task was further complicated because the relative openness of the marketplace was challenged by a mean-spirited class-consciousness sparked by the Malthusian project of blaming the poor for their poverty. Yet the openness of the marketplace survived; so, too, did the responsiveness of the political system. Marginalization intensified the contradictions which could promise inclusion but was predicated on the exploitation of one half of society for the liberation of the other half. Consumer culture is now within the reach of everyone and in the grasp of most. The remarkable modernization of the working-class family was not a matter of bourgeoisification so much as a convergence around a certain normative standard that was acknowledged by all even though it was interpreted in quite distinctive ways according to one's class, ethnicity, gender, and age.

The power of disciplinarians was neither absolute nor uncontested; rather, their aims (discursive and practical) were hammered out against the anvil of working-class resistance. The blows that the working class absorbed were directed in an attempt to refashion its identity. To a large extent, this refashioning has occurred; but, equally, this new identity is not exactly what those who wielded the hammer of social change had in mind. But, then, they didn't have computerized, automated production routines in mind either; nor did they envisage the insistent demand for equality—social and political, personal and private—which has distinguished twentieth-century social politics.

This brings me to conclude with a question: Is the "modern age" over? If so, then, when did it end and what is replacing it? If we connect the modern age with a prescriptive vision of family discipline, then we are now living in an age of "late modernity." The prescriptive center no longer holds. The loss of that prescriptive unanimity is a matter of fact. Those who mourn that loss cannot forget the sentimental family; they seem to believe that it was a natural form of social organization and not one constructed in the transition from early modern to modern times. The cost exacted by modern memory is that those who cannot forget the family often mistake its appearance and in so doing betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the contingency of the world we have made. The splintering of prescriptive unanimity has led to the emergence of familial pluralism. More particularly, I would suggest that if the early modern world was characterized by "government of families," the modern world by "government through the family," then the world of late modernity will be characterized by "government without the family."

Along with increasing diversity of family types in the twentieth century has come a redefinition of many family functions. Except for a brief post–World War II baby boom, numbers of children per family continued to decline, and in general childrearing declined as a family function. The entry of married women into the labor force from the 1950s onward changed their bargaining power within marriage. Many families increasingly served as recreational and consumer units, and many people found they could do without the family altogether for these purposes. Rising divorce rates and, particularly in areas such as Scandinavia, increasing numbers of unions without marriage, signaled this redefinition of functions.

See also other articles in this section.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

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Bernardes, Jan. "Do We Really Know What 'The Family' Is?" In Family and Economy in Modern Society. Edited by Paul Close and Rosemary Collins. London, 1985. Pages 192–195.

Brooke, Christopher. The Medieval Idea of Marriage. Oxford and New York, 1989.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850. London and Chicago, 1987.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. The Return of Martin Guerre. Cambridge, Mass., 1983.

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Duby, Georges. The Knight, the Lady, and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage in Medieval France. Translated by Barbara Bray. New York, 1983. Translation of Chevalier, la femme et le prêtre.

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Levine, David. Family Formation in an Age of Nascent Capitalism. New York, 1977.

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Medick, Hans, Jürgen Schlümbohm, and Peter Kriedte. Industrialization before Industrialization: Rural Industry in the Genesis of Capitalism. Translated Beate Schempp. Cambridge, U.K., 1981. Translation of Industrialisierung von der Industrialisierung.

Shorter, Edward. The Making of the Modern Family. New York, 1975.

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Articles

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Middleton, Chris. "Peasants, Patriarchy and the Feudal Mode of Production in England. II: Feudal Lords and the Subordination of Peasant Women." Sociological Review 29 (1981): 137–154.

Scott, Joan, and Louise Tilly. "Women's Work and the Family in Nineteenth-Century Europe." Comparative Studies in Society and History 17 (1975): 36–64.

Scott, Joan, Louise Tilly, and Miriam Cohen. "Women's Work and European Fertility Patterns." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6 (1976): 447–476.

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Stone, Lawrence. "Family History in the 1980s." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 12 (1981): 51–87.

Tilly, Louise. "Women's History and Family History: Fruitful Collaboration or Missed Connection?" Journal of Family History 12 (1987): 303–315.