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History and the Family: The Discovery of Complexity

Glen H. Elder, Jr.
Journal of Marriage and Family
Vol. 43, No. 3 (Aug., 1981), pp. 489-519
DOI: 10.2307/351752
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/351752
Page Count: 31
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History and the Family: The Discovery of Complexity
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Abstract

New historical work in family studies has produced a greater sense of complexity and differentiation in the course of social change. This perception, which is challenging accepted knowledge and theory, partly reflects a shift in analytic perspective from structural models to a more behavioral thrust that views family units as actors in structured situations. W. I. Thomas's adaptational approach in The Polish Peasant exemplifies this behavioral orientation as does an emerging perspective on the life course of families and individuals. This essay examines the interplay of historical research and theory building, the expanding discovery of complexity in the family life of past times, the potential usefulness of Thomas's theory for such research, and the essential contribution of age and the life course to the historical application of the Thomas approach.

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