This book explores the relationship between civil society and the family. Given how important family life is in the routines and responsibilities of individuals around the world, it is surprising that links between family and civic and political engagement have not received more attention until now.
Ideas about family life colour our decisions about where to work, where to live, and how to spend our time. We argue that the family is an increasingly important agent of social change – many of the challenges we face as a society are tackled in the domestic sphere.
For example, debates about how to heat the family home, what car to buy, or what holidays to take can all be linked to global environmental concerns. It’s no surprise that the significance of ‘home life’ has been highlighted over recent months as citizens have been implored to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This book considers aspects of civil society in turn to assess whether family practices and values have a bearing on these forms of engagement. This includes the intergenerational sharing of religious faith, the significance of female family roles, family arguments, dinner time etiquette, and opportunities for younger generations to share civic ideals with older family members.
Three key findings include:
- There is a positive link between family arguments and young people’s levels of civic participation. This suggests that discussion and debate can help younger generations to develop the skills needed to participate in civic or political activism.
- Mothers and grandmothers play a particularly important role in sharing civic values with younger generations, by role modelling ‘caring’ behaviours and activities. In some families, household practices such as cooking, baking and caring for young children, extend out into the community, with women baking for charity events, serving tea and coffee at their local church or helping with a creche.
- Younger generations can shape the perspectives and actions of older family members. Although we often think of family members passing down values through the generations, we explore the rising interest in ecological issues, finding that conversations with younger family members can prompt parents and grandparents to reflect on long-held beliefs. In particular, younger family members brought environmental knowledge and practices learnt at school, or from peers, into the family home and shared them with older family members.
Moving beyond the popular binary between ‘public’ and ‘private’, this book offers nuanced insights into intergenerational relation and the domestic division of labour in relation to civil society.
Policy makers and political parties use ideas about ‘the family’ or ‘family values’ in very particular ways. For example, right leaning political parties have used ideas of the ‘hard-working family’ to distinguish between those who do or do not deserve state support.
Although the family is conventionally seen as the political property of the right – evidenced in a desire to ‘protect’ the privacy of the family from interference by the state – our research calls this assumption into question.
Our finding that generosity and mutual support within the family can contribute to generosity and civic engagement outside of the family, may help policy makers and third sector organisations to reframe the way that they work with individuals as family members.