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psc brown bag iconFamily in the Middle East: Ideational Change in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia

Kathryn Yount (Department of Sociology, Emory University)

10/01/2007, at noon in room 6050 ISR-Thompson.

This volume explores, from a historical comparative perspective, the globalization of dominant myths of 'modern' family and society, and their effects on families in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia. Historically, a dominant model for understanding societal and family change was the 'developmental paradigm' (see Thornton 2005). Accordingly, the 'most advanced' societies were those in Northwest Europe and its diasporas, other societies occupied 'less advanced' positions, and societies 'progressed' through the same stages of 'development.' Scholars since have challenged many of these assertions, but a persistent belief in the developmental paradigm has had two potential consequences. First, it may have stymied new theory about the causes of family change globally. Second, it may have produced certain 'developmental myths' that have affected families globally (Thornton 2005). These myths are that: 'modern society' is good and attainable, 'modern family' is good and attainable, 'modern family' is a cause and an effect of 'modern society', and individuals are free and equal and social relationships are based on consent. In this volume, we evaluate the existence and globalization of these 'developmental myths.' The volume reveals that these myths have touched each country under study; yet, their perceived origins, content, trajectories, and implications have differed. The views of key leaders regarding certain developmental myths have varied over time, although one common practice has been to trace new symbols of 'modern' family and nationhood back to Islam. Lay people's interpretations of 'modern-family' icons also depend on the full ideological landscape, political-economic context, and mundane constraints to change in daily life. People's acceptance, adaptation, or rejection of such icons can have profound effects on their behavior and family ties.

To date, no edited volume has explored 'developmental myths' as forces of family change in the Middle East. As a result, the volume fills a major gap in critical family studies in and on the Middle East by offering a new, empirically-grounded framework about 'the modern family' icon as a force of family change. In so doing, this volume contributes uniquely to sociological debates about globalization. The volume's rich presentation of ethnographic and survey data reveals how ordinary people in three distinct settings have understood dominant icons of 'modern family' and have appropriated them to forge their own idiomatic modernities. Finally, this volume entertains the notion that 'structural' and 'ideational' forces, as well as micro-level agency, contribute to the process of global family change.


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