“Our whole social environment seems to us to be filled with forces which really exist only in our own minds”
Emile Durkheim, father of Sociology, wrote at the end of the 19th century. Durkheim succeeded in having Sociology accepted as a legitimate science at the time. Sociology was for him the science of institutions,
“beliefs and modes of behavior instituted by the collectivity”
as he explained in The Rules of Sociological Method (trans. W.D. Halls, The Free Press, 1982, p.45)
Right after Durkheim and the evolutionary theory and social Darwinism, sociologists came with no less than four deterministic theories: the economic, geographic, psychological and cultural theory. The last one, the cultural theory of the 1930s emphasized human ability to innovate and diffuse culture. It was then that sociologists concluded that culture was the main factor in accounting for its own evolution and that of society. By 1940 social explanations of societal change were accepted, and other factors like economic or psychological factors played secondary roles.
Motherhood seen by Sociology
So, in sharp contrast to the Biologically based theories and the Psychology based theories, the Sociology based theories will argue that child- and baby care is fundamentally shaped by culture and society. Sociology or Social anthropology assume that man can have power over its biological impulses and rise above his biological compulsions through mechanisms and devises.
(The field of social anthropology has always been very close to sociology. Until the 1920’s the two subjects were most of the time combined in one department, and anthropology’s emphasis would be on the study of preliterate or primitive peoples.)
The Social Institutions, what are essentially all the systems of behavioral and relationship patterns, can, in their view, help secure or guarantee the continuation of the human race in spite of life threatening dangers. The desire and capacity to look after children , or child- and baby care, is largely defined by society, according to these disciplines. This means motherhood is largely defined by society as well.
A mother will learn through an infinite string of events throughout her life what she is supposed to do as a mother, what the meaning is of a mother and how she needs to feel about it. Being a mother will be just another role in society that one can play.
This belief orbits around three connected assumptions
- First of all, the way she feels about motherhood will be largely determined how society evaluates the role.
- Secondly, her own personality and experiences will be important and co-determine the way she will play out the role.
- And thirdly, the role itself will be defined by society. The role is then perceived or seen like a convention or norm.
There is also the relationship of one institution (motherhood) versus another institution (e.g. marriage and employment) or a third (child- and baby care). Since it is agreed upon that motherhood, and child- and baby care is defined by society, these roles will then off course also be determined by the place and time.
Sociology studies themselves, were a product of their place and time
Why does this matter? Well just like other sciences, Sociology is partly responsible for our understanding of Motherhood and child- and baby care today. This very new and young science Sociology has also contributed widely to the definition of child- and baby care. And their studies show us now how Societies viewpoints on child- and baby care evolves, especially in studies of the 50’s and the 70’s.
Child- and baby care history
The studies on child- and baby care and marriage in the 1950’s almost consistently and unfailingly state that child- and baby care has a negative impact on marriage: three studies would prove that the birth of a child was signify a small hiccup in marriage (Hobbs 1965, 1968; Meyerowitz and Feldman 1966) and two studies would clarify that it most often meant a severe crisis (LeMasters 1957; Dyer 1963).
Five studies in the 1970’s would demonstrate that the dissatisfaction with marriage is proven greatest during childbirth and toddlers years compared to any other period in marriage (Hurley and Palonen 1967; Renne 1970; Burr 1970, Rollins and Feldman 1970; Feldman 1971).
However child- and baby care remained indisputably rewarding and gratifying despite its proven effects on marriage. This too can be explained by the time the study took place.
The intent and interpretation of the studies on female employment were equally biased. The intent was always to find out if there were negative consequences to female employment and more precisely on the family life and her children, her former duties. It was assumed that the only reason she could possibly go to work was for financial reasons and for no other. Work was undertaken to help the family and children but in a different way. Sometimes it was assumed that a mother worked because domestic life was boring or because of lack of adults in her life. It was never to slip away or break out, or to continue to grow or develop herself.
These studies seemed to never make a different assumption around other roles besides the mother role. Sociology itself was a product of its time.
State of Sociology as a Science today
Sociology did not achieve the same status of the older and more supported sciences. The slower development of sociological research has many causes: excess use of jargon, imitation of natural science methodology, over dependence on informal observations or interviews. Contemporary sociology has made progress toward improved methodology.
Sociologists today believe that human betterment is achievable if the application of social science knowledge on enduring problems, like widespread poverty of women or breakdowns in the family are included.