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The European Family. (Reviews).

The European Family. By Jack Goody (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Publishers Inc., 2000. x plus 209 pp. $26.95).

Jack Goody's The European Family appears as part of a multi-volume series on the Making of Europe. It represents a restatement, if not a full synthesis, of the author's writings on comparative family history that appeared in several books published in the 1980s and 1990s. In this volume, Goody presents his views in a set of chronologically- and topically-based chapters beginning with the Classical World and ending with the contemporary family.

In his work on comparative family history in recent years, Goody has sought to slay several analytical dragons. He reserves his greatest disapproval for those who, following Max Weber, emphasize the "uniqueness" of the West by emphasizing the singularity of what John Hajnal called the "European Marriage Pattern," or by arguing that the modern western family invented affection for children. Goody uses the work of David Sabean on the village of Neckarhausen to attack the body of research inspired by the Cambridge School for the History of Population and Social Structure for over-emphasizing the uniqueness of nuclear family forms to the West (Goody believes that this form prevails in all societies). He also decries scholars' exaggeration of the "isolation" of residents of nuclear household dwellers from their extended kin.

Instead, Goody advocates seeing Eurasia as a single cultural and economic zone that can be fruitfully contrasted with Africa. Since the Bronze Age, Eurasian societies developed two important practices that shaped family relations: the "endowment of women," and "women's property complex." Under these broad cultural practices, women became part of systems of inter-generational property devolution. In both Europe and Asia, couples had some control over a "conjugal fund" (16). Though in many instances receiving less property than siblings, women in these societies, as seen by Goody, were key parts of "strategies of heirship." Complex systems of social stratification evolved from these strategies and later came to reinforce them.

Curiously enough, despite Goody's desire to minimize differences between East and West, this volume emphasizes the impact of Christianity on western family life as a main factor that distinguished European from Asian family history. In his previous work, and again in this volume, Goody shows how rules that the church gradually imposed on the European population limited "strategies of heirship" that they could practice to preserve property within kin groups. The church erected severe restrictions upon the range of persons whom one could marry. It insinuated itself into the lives and consciousness of wealthy Europeans, often convincing them to convey property to the church in their own lifetimes or through written wills and testaments. It convinced wealthy widows to remain unmarried, further diminishing the likelihood of heirs with which it would have to compete for property. It gradually imposed its prohibition of divorce (though loopholes existed for wealthy men and for the very poor simply through abandonme nt). It prohibited a system of adoption of male heirs that men in the ancient world had used to maintain patrilines. By gradually becoming a "great organization," the church became a worthy adversary of secular authorities in the battle for the hearts and minds of medieval and early modern Europeans. More than any other single factor it shaped the "family values" of Europeans.

With his long-standing interest in patterns of property devolution across generations, Goody devotes attention to the economic features of his story. He revisits the process of Europe's proto-industrial and then its full industrial development. But in this part of the analysis, it is not always clear what the main point is. Did the proro-industrial or industrialization process radically affect family relations?

Goody is at his best in analyses that expose these important structural features of western society. His text loses power and becomes more equivocal when he narrates events such as the Reformation or the processes of proto-industrializarion or industrialization. These parts of the book are relatively uncontroversial, but it is often difficult to understand whether the author believes that these figured more as sources of continuity or change in western family life. Goody discusses the importance of divorce in the Reformation as a sign of change. The availability of divorce in many areas of Europe during the Reformation was important, in principle, but we also know that very few people took advantage of this relaxation in the older Catholic principle of marital stability. Should we therefore read the history of the Reformation more as a conservative or as a progressive force for change?

It is similar with the analysis of proto-industrialization and industrialization. Goody believes that industrial work encouraged the growth of a ''family system" of work. But did this represent a true departure from the past? Moreover, his portrait of proro-industrialization ignores studies more recent than those he cites that suggest a more variegated response among rural households to the possibility of proto-industrial work. Many households in proto-industrial regions adapted to new opportunities to bring cash income into the household by performing proto-industrial work while remaining dependent upon agricultural sources for their support as well. It is not clear that proto-industrialization radically changed the long-standing structural feature of households of the relatively poor which had always depended upon a variety of labor inputs to survive. Goody argues that the greatest impact of industrialization, at least in England, lay with the disappearance of the peasantry (120). But it is not clear how t his affected family life or relations, since Goody seems to believe that nuclear and extended kin relations figured importantly in both pre-industrial and industrial society.

It is unfortunate that while Jack Goody is the person best placed to undertake broad comparative work on family history, a truly international perspective largely disappears from the analysis after the first several chapters. We never really learn whether, in his view, Europe and its family system became any more or less different from Asia as a result of the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

There are a number of other places where his readers could have benefited from an expanded analysis. Goody makes a number of important and potentially controversial points about women's lives in the west that deserve more attention-that Christianity improved the position of women (70-72), that dowry systems should not be seen as systems of disinheritance (98), or that "patriarchy" should not be used in describing what he sees as the "matrifocal" working-class families of nineteenth-century England.

Like some other critics of mid-twentieth-century sociology of the family, Goody misuses the term "isolated" that figured so importantly in the work of structural functionalists like Talcott Parsons, who employed it to distinguish a modern western system from others. The term had a very narrow meaning in its original statement, referring only to the fact that marriages in the modern west usually took place between individuals from larger kin groups whose sole link to one another was through that one marriage bond. It never referred to the physical or moral isolation of individuals from their own respective extended families.

Jack Goody is the most important comparativist writing what we might call "world family history" today. Despite his desire to expel notions of Weberianinspired western "uniqueness" or even substantive difference between European and Asian family systems, Goody has identified in Christianity the single most important structural factor--present in one area and absent in the other-that differentiated them. Ironically, Goody's analysis of Christianity's multiple impacts is entirely compatible with the work of Goody's main nemesis, Max Weber, who saw the church's impact on the west as central, leading as it did to the erosion of bonds of blood and the substitution of a value system vaunting ties of the spirit.

What is most curious about Goody's work is how little impact this fundamental insight has had in recent years on the writing of family history. Perhaps this reflected the sort of conspiratorial tone that informed Goody's initial analysis of the church's avid pursuit of the laity's property in his earlier work, The Development of the Family in Europe. Here, Goody has nuanced his tone and at least suggested the more important point that what Christianity and its church needed to survive across the many centuries was less the property of wealthy laymen than success in building "habits of the heart" that stretched beyond boundaries of "family" to inspire wider ties of solidarity.
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Author:Lynch, Katherine A.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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