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Difficulties Facing Both the Family and Family Studies

Yoshitaka Ikeoka
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Over the past few years, I have devoted myself to a relatively large-scale project that required steady and persistent effort. I was involved in the publication of A Selected Bibliography of Post-war Family Sociology [Sengo Kazoku Shakaigaku Bunken Senshu] last year and also the year before (comprising a total of 20 volumes plus a separate volume of comments and an annotated bibliography, at the Nihon Tosho Center). I wrote comments and annotated each literary work in the bibliography, reprinting the important literature on family sociology for the period from the latter half of the 1940's, immediately after World War II, to the 1970's, including not only well-known documents but also forgotten ones. This work made me reconsider what family studies should be and how family studies should relate to actual family situations.

In modern society, people are very concerned about and highly interested in their families, as the family has experienced drastic changes since the war and there are many family problems that need to be resolved immediately. In modern society the family not only faces problems that are directly related—including those among husbands and wives, parents and children, marriage and divorce, childbearing, child rearing, caring for aged parents—but it also exists against the backdrop of a core group of modern social problems such as increased rates of unmarried people and late marriages, low birthrates, the aging of the population, and the gap between rich and poor. Therefore, many current family studies and theories tackle these problems directly, determine the current situation of the family, try to resolve them, and consider the potential future of the family. I myself, on the other hand, have been engaged in work specifically focusing on the literature of family studies for about thirty years starting from immediately after the war, half a century ago. At first glance it may appear that I have devoted myself to work that is detached from the current reality, but I did so with a plan in mind. I thought it was in just this period when studies of the post-war family started, the roots of current family studies. I was convinced that although it may seem to be a roundabout approach, going back to the roots and verifying the process up to now would surely be useful in studying the contemporary family and would contribute to family studies.

Through my work, I reconfirmed that the main themes of family sociology were the same more than half a century ago, immediately after the war, as they are at present: family changes and family problems. It is safe to say that the family changes and family problems of about 60 years ago were more dramatic than they are now, as society before the war was so different from that after the war, and reform of the social system relating to family—including reform of the Civil Code—brought about drastic family changes and the concomitant family problems. It may sound strange, but researchers at that time might have been happier than their counterparts today, because the framework of family changes at that time was more clearly identified and there was a clearer future family model at that time. The family change that Japanese aimed for was a change from the family system before the war to a democratic, modern family after the war, modeled on the American family—consisting of a husband, a wife and unmarried child/children—what is called a nuclear family. In reality, family change was directed toward the nuclear family and advocated and promoted by family studies researchers. It was a time when the actual family situations happily matched with the ideal family images of family studies.

Compared to what I mentioned above, the family changes we face today are very complicated without any clear model to reference. The difference is not a matter of whether an historic, major incident like war existed or not, but rather it is the result of two different processes of modernity as delineated by social theorists such as A. Giddens, U. Beck, and Z. Bauman. They refer to the process of modernizing the traditional society before modernity as simple modernity or first modernity, which corresponds to the era immediately after the war. Modernization of the traditional family system before the war, village communities, labor that was based on primary industry and family business as well as political and educational systems brought about the modern family (nuclear family), local community, labor that is based on corporations and corporate employees, a democratic political system and a broad new educational system.

Along with a stable economic base of high economic growth, we have been able to enjoy a stable modern society. However, modernity is destined toward ceaseless movement. Once traditional things that were the objective of modernization are completely modernized, society goes into a stage called the reflexive modernization or the second modernity, where the things that were modernized become the objective of subsequent modernization. In Japan that stage started around 1980 and is ongoing. The collapse of the local community, increasing mobility of employment, the collapse of labor movements, and the fall of the nation state or territorial state through globalization are all phenomena reflecting the turbulent stage of modernization that is brought about by simple modernity. The fluctuation or collapse of the family is an instantiation of such phenomena. Solidarity of the modern family (nuclear family) achieved through simple modernity loses momentum with the rise of the thoroughly modernizing individualization, which increases mobility, and which makes it difficult to present a clear family model going forward. In other words, both the family itself and family studies face a difficult situation today.

As I was involved in organizing and summarizing the literature on family sociology up to the 1970's, which was right before the waves of the reflexive modernity rolled on, I was much more strongly impressed with the contrast between the past and the present. So, one might ask, have I been able through my work to gain insight into or see the light toward pursuing or studying this confused modern family? The answer is, unfortunately, quite the contrary—I felt the difficulty of current family studies more strongly than ever, and I even longed for the past honeymoon period when the actual family situations happily matched the ideal family images of family studies. Nevertheless, I cannot indulge myself in longing, but rather I have to keep taking on the difficult challenges. Researchers at that time might have felt similar difficulties in the midst of the changes of the day as we do now in the present difficulties. And yet we evaluate, accept, and understand their work clearly now. So what I must learn from this work is: although it is difficult to point out what exactly are the issues of family studies in the midst of actual family situations and family changes, we have a responsibility to tackle those difficult issues and keep taking on new challenges as our predecessors have done since the start of modernity after the war.

Yoshitaka Ikeoka
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Professor Yoshitaka Ikeoka was born in Tokyo in 1952. He graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences at Waseda University, majoring in sociology, and withdrew after expiration of the term for the Doctoral Program of Sociology in the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences at Waseda University. He now serves as Professor on the Faculty of Human Sciences at Waseda University, after serving as Associate Professor and Assistant Professor at the same School, starting from 1987. He served as a Research Associate on the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University from 1982 through 1985. His specialization is Family Sociology and his primary interests are qualitative research, doctrinal history, and the history of research. His major publications in this area include: The Establishment of Post-war Family Sociology and Family Survey [Sengo Kazoku Shakaigaku no Seiritsu to Kazoku Chosa] (2003) and the above mentioned A Selected Bibliography of Post-war Family Sociology [Sengo Kazoku Shakaigaku Bunken Senshu], (Co-author and co-editor with Hideki Watanabe, 2008 and 2009, Nihon Tosho Center).