Topic 3 Culture and Family

Activity 1: Unique Microcosms in a Big Cultural Context

Question: Do you believe families are different in other countries and cultures? Watch the video about Different Family Traditions in the World. Then, reflect.

A recent research explains:

“The difficulty of conceptualizing this social institution suggests that family is a culture-bound phenomenon (Bales & Parsons, 2014). In essence, culture represents how people view themselves as part of a unique social collective and the ensuing communication interactions (Olaniran & Roach, 1994); subsequently, culture provides norms for behavior having a tremendous impact on those family members’ roles and power dynamics mirrored in its communication interactions (Johnson, Radesky, & Zuckerman, 2013). Thus, culture serves as one of the main macroframeworks for individuals to interpret and enact those prescriptions, such as inheritance; descent rules (e.g., bilateral, as in the United States, or patrilineal); marriage customs, such as ideal monogamy and divorce; and beliefs about sexuality, gender, and patterns of household formation, such as structure of authority and power (Weisner, 2014). For these reasons, “every family is both a unique microcosm and a product of a larger cultural context” (Johnson et al., 2013, p. 632), and the analysis of family communication must include culture in order to elucidate effective communication strategies to solve familial conflicts.”

In short, this study shows us that:

  • Family and culture are bound together
  • Culture affects the way people behave, communicate and socialize
  • Culture affects marriage traditions, ideas about gender and sexuality, and ideas about family formation

Kinship relationships vary in cultures. In Europe, the parents usually try to have an equal relationship with each other. Children don’t have to work. Parents often tell children what to do, and gradually give children more freedom. All these things vary from culture to culture. Apart from parents and children, other relatives may have a say in the family.

Extended Family

In some cultures, the grandparents of the family may have a big influence on how the household is run. This influence can be that others choose who you should marry, with whom you should live with and how money is inherited or divided.

Living Together

Also, cultures have different rules about where the couple will live after marriage. Sometimes, the wife has to move in with the family of her new husband. This still happens in Southern Europe and with immigrant families.

In Northern Europe, it is more common that a new couple will start to live together in a new house or apartment. But the economic crises often make this difficult. Then, the couple has to choose between staying with the family of one of the partners.

Some cultures have Rules about who you can marry. In some Asian societies, marriage is restricted to the same caste, the same village, the same religion, or the same race. These social norms are less restrictive in Europe nowadays.

Some marriages end in Divorce.

In some societies, divorce is frowned upon, but it is still permitted. Conservative Catholics do not permit divorce except under highly unusual situations, and it then requires special dispensation. The Greek Orthodox Church permits three marriages and three divorces. Islamic law, the sharia, permits divorces, but divorce has legal and social consequences.

Activity 2: Individuality VS Interdependence

Question: Cultures differ in how much they encourage individuality and uniqueness versus conformity and interdependence. Watch the video about “Me or We? Cultural Difference between East and West” and share your thoughts.

Homework 1:

Research further a country of your choice and prepare a short report with your conclusions on cultural differences in family dynamics.

Homework 2:

Interview your caretakers and your other family members about what your family means to them. Think of questions like:

  • What are you proud of in this family?
  • What could be improved in the functioning of this family?
  • Who could do what to help improve the family?
  • Was your family in the past the same as this family now?
  • What has changed over the years? What influenced that?

You don’t have to ask them all, just have a good conversation about the topic.