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Postmodern and Late Modern Criminology

A Summary sheet covering post and late modern theories of crime – focusing on Jock Young’s ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’, the cultural criminology of Katz and Lyng (edgework), and Foucault’s concept of discplinary power and the shift to control through surveillance. 

Post and Late Modern Theories of Crime

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 1)

Introduction – Post/ Late Modern Society and changing crime

  • Post-Modern society refers to society since about the 1970s

  • Numerous social changes mean that both the nature of crime and the causes of crime are more complex

  • Some of the key social changes which influence criminal behaviour (and crime control) include

  • The rise of the consumer society – the norm of high consumption

  • globalisation, de-industrialisation and increasing instability and uncertainty

  • The fact that we live in a media-saturated society which celebrates celebrity-culture

  • The increase in individual-freedom (individualisation) and cultural diversity

  • Various technological changes, especially the increasing centrality of ICT.

  • This revision sheet (and the main class-notes) only look at sociologists who have developed new theories about the relationship between changes in post/ late modernity and changing crime.

  • Other areas of the course which could be included under postmodernism include gloablisation and crime, and aspects of the media and crime.

Jock Young – Late Modernity, Exclusion and Crime

  • The 1950s was a ‘golden age’ of full employment, cultural inclusion and low crime

  • Today, de-industrialisation has resulted in low-employment, instability, insecurity, uncertainty, social-fragmentation and high crime rates

  • Economic exclusion combined with the pressure to consume and be a celebrity result in anomie

  • Crime is a means of coping with this anomie – it offers us a ways not necessarily to get rich (like Merton says), but to ‘be somebody’, vent our frustrations, or simply escape.

  • As a result, crime gets more diverse, more spread out in society, and nastier (more extreme).

Cultural Criminology – Edgework

  • Developed by Katz and Lyng in the 1980s and 1990s

  • Criticises Rational Choice Theory – crime is not always rational, it is done for emotional reasons

  • Crime is increasingly about ‘edgework’ – flirting with the boundaries of the acceptable because it’s exciting, or thrilling.

  • This is very much part of living in a risk-society (Ulrich Beck)

Simon Winlow – Violent Night

  • Researched young working class men in Northern cities who regularly engaged in binge-drinking and violence at the weekends.

  • Found that their jobs were low-status and insecure, they offered them no sense of identity

  • Binge-drinking was a way to escape the boredom and low-status of work.

  • Fighting meant numerous things – it was about status, but also simply thrilling and exciting.

  • Offers broad support for both the theories above.

Surveillance and Crime Control

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 2)

Michel Foucault – The Birth of the Prison and the rise of Surveillance

  • Punishment used to be violent, carried out on the body and it used to be done in public, now punishment is psychological, it expects people to change the way they think, and it is carried out in prisons, behind closed doors.

  • This reflects a shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power.

  • Sovereign power involved controlling people through the threat of force – people were punished severely and other people obeyed because they were afraid of the same punishment.

  • Disciplinary power now involves controlling people through surveillance and expecting people to change their own behaviour – prisoners are locked away and monitored, and change their own behaviour because they know they are being watched.

  • This logic of control now extends to everyone – even non-criminals – surveillance is now everywhere in society – it is not just criminals who are under surveillance by agents of social control, we are under surveillance from cradle to grave – school, work, pregnancy, child-birth, on the streets and roads, our health data.

  • Most people now obey the rules because they know they are being watched – they regulate their own behaviour for fear of becoming the wrong kind of person – a failing student, an unproductive worker, a bad mother, an obese-person, for example.

  • NB – This is quintessentially sociological – it is only in very recent human history that we have become so obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our daily-lives, and one of Foucault’s points is that this constant surveillance doesn’t necessarily improve our lives – there are both winners and losers.

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Post and Late Modern Perspectives on Society and Identity

This is intended to be an uber-brief summary, for fuller accounts please see other relevant posts. 

The postmodern view of society 

  • Globalisation destablises social structures
  • Consumer culture floats free from other institutions
  • The media and hyperreality are important
  • There is much more diversity
  • The End of Metanarratives

The corresponding postmodern view of identity

  • Individuals identities are no longer constrained by traditional norms (such as locality, social class or gender)
  • Leisure and consumption, not work are what bind us together and what we use to actively construct our identities
  • Individuals are free to construct their own identities in any way they see fit.

The Late Modern view of society 

  • Globalisation remains structured
  • Abstract Systems are important (T$E)
  • Uncertainty is everywhere
  • Institutions are reflexive
  • Therapy is important.

The corresponding Late Modern view of Identity 

  • Individuals are not so much free to construct their own identities – they have to do so.
  • This is because the lack of a stable structure and rapid pace of social change means identity is no longer provided at birth, work, or locality.
  • Thus people are forced into devoting time and money to ‘constructing their selves’ reflexively – and they have to do so continuously.
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Anthony Giddens on Late Modernism – Introductory Questions

A few ‘pop’ questions to introduce students to some of Giddens’ core concepts in an easy and accessible manner…

  1. Think about Globalisation – is there a ‘political, economic and/ or social structure at the global level, or is the world just characterised by random, chaotic flows?

  2. Think of the UK government – does it try to ‘steer’ global events, does it try to control people’s lives in the UK?

  3. Are there any ‘objective’ really existing global problems that the whole of humanity are threated by?

  4. Could you live without any of the following – Money, Clock Time, Experts (scientists/ technologists)?

  5. Do you have any social media profile(s) which tells your ‘life story’ up until this point in time? If so, do you intend to carry on updating this as your life ‘profresses’?

  6. How many times a day do you ‘reflect on’ your social identitiy – how many times do you think about how you come across to other people?

  7. Two parts – a. How much time and money do you spend shopping each week? b. How much time and money do you spend on modifying your appearance?

  8. What proportion of your ‘banter’ with your friends is about having fun and what propertion is about asking moral and existential questions about the nature of existence?

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Giddens: Modernity and Self-Identity – Introduction and Chapter One (A Summary)

modernity and self identityAnthony Giddens is one of the world’s leading sociologists and one of the main critics of Postmodern thought – and should be taught as part of the second year A level Sociology module in Theory and Methods. Below is a summary of one of his major works – Modernity and Self-Identity (the introduction and chapter one). 

Introduction – An Overview of the Whole Book –

Modernity is more complex and interconnected than ever before and modern institutions are more dynamic than at any previous point in history – at both an institutional level and in terms of how they impact on the individual and intimate life.

In modernity there is an increasing interconnection between two extremes – the global and personal dispositions (extensionality and intentionality).

The new mechanisms of self-identity shape and are shaped by the institutions of modernity and Sociology is a fundamental part of the institutional reflexivity of modernity.

There is a basic dialectic between modern institutions which encourage the repression of ‘living out’ existential questions in day to day life and the emergence of life-politics which seeks to manifest them.

Late Modernity has the following characteristics:

  • It is more intensely reflexive.

  • There has been a profound reorganisation of time and space – disembedding mechanisms change the nature of day to day social life.

  • It institutionalises radical doubt – all knowledge takes the form of a hypothesis – claims which may be true are always potentially open for revision such that the self has to be continuously (re-) made amidst a puzzling array of possibilities.

  • In circumstances of uncertainty and multiple choice the notions of risk and trust become central. Trust is necessary to form a protective cocoon so that we may ‘go on’ with our day to day life. Risk is also central – in modernity the future is continuously drawn into the present by means of the reflexive organisation of knowledge environments. Modernity makes some areas of life safer, but also opens up new risks.

  • The influence of distant happenings on proximate events become more and more common place – the media is common place and is what binds us together in this (against hyperreality).

  • Because of all of the above ‘lifestyle’ becomes central – reflexively organised life planning becomes a central feature of the structuring of self-identity, which normally presumes a consideration of risks as filtered through contact with expert knowledge.

  • The Pure Relationship is the main type of relationship.

  • Re-skilling becomes central to life.

  • The construction and control of the body becomes central.

  • Science, technology and expertise play a more fundamental role in the ‘sequestration of experience’. The overall thrust of modern institutions is to create settings of action ordered in terms of modernity’s own dynamics and severed from external criteria’ – as a result action becomes severed from existential questions.

  • Mechanisms of shame rather than guilt come to the fore in late modernity. Narcissism and personal meaninglessness become the main problems of self-development – ”authenticity’ is frequently devoid of any moral anchoring.

  • Yet the repression of existential questions is not complete – and life politics emerges in response.

  • Baudrillard confuses the pervasive impact of mediated experience with the internal referentiality of the social systems of modernity – these systems become largely autonomous and determined by their own constitutive influences.

  • The construction of self identity does not float free – class and other divisions can be partially defined through differential access to opportunities for self-actualisation.

GIddens Late Modernity

Chapter One – The Contours of High Modernity

Starts with the example of divorce to illustrate the gist of the chapter.

The experience of intimate life is not separate from social life. High modernity demands that we continually remake ourselves, and so it is with many relationships – as evidenced in the persistent high divorce rate, which is simply a consequence of the ‘pure relationship’ being the main type of relationship today.

Divorce is not necessarily a tragedy – for some it is an opportunity to further develop themselves, while for others they retreat into a resigned numbness. To make a ‘success’ out of divorce, one has to mourn it, accept that the marriage is ended, and move on!

Modernity: Some general considerations:

Modernity has the following features –

  1. It is industrial – social relations are rooted in the widespread use of material power and machinery in production processes.

  2. It is capitalist – we live in a system of commodity production which involves both competitive product markets and the commodification of labour power.

  3. There are significant institutions of surveillance – the supervisory control of subject populations – both visible and in terms of the use of information to coordinate social activities.

  4. We live in the context of the industrialisation of war – modernity has ushered in a context of ‘total war’ – the potential destructive power of weaponry, most obviously nuclear arms, is immense.

Modernity produces certain distinct social forms – most obviously the nation state, or a system of nation states, which follow coordinated policies or plans on a global scale – nation states permit and entail concentrated reflexive monitoring.

Modernity is also characterised by extreme dynamism – the current world is a runaway world – the pace, scope and profoundness of changes is significantly greater than any time before.

The peculiar character of modernity consists in the following:

Firstly the separation of time and space and the emptying out of time and space – the clock being the most obvious manifestation which presumed deeply structured changes in the tissue of everyday life, which were universalising, on a global scale. This is a dialectical process – the severance of time from space allows for new formations – such as the ‘use of history to make history’ – as in the significance of the year 2000, just because it was the year 2000.

Secondly the disembedding of social institutions – the lifting out of social relations from local contexts. There are two main ways this occurs – through symbolic tokens (such as money) and expert systems (therapists) and each of these permeate every aspect of late-modern life, and both depend on trust. Trust, a leap of faith is essential – because in a disembedded system we cannot know everything. Risk is also part of this.

Institutional reflexivity is the third feature of late modernity – the regularised use of knowledge about circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organisation and transformation.

The local, the global and the transformation of day-to-day-life

There is a dialectic between Modernity’s universalising efforts and the actual consequences: In the attempt to know and predict everything, in fact competing knowledge systems have emerged, and there is no way of knowing with any certainty which is correct, thus uncertainty lies at the heart of daily life.

The mediation of experience

Today, virtually all experience is mediated, but this does not result in post-modern fragmentation – in fact mediation is precisely what unifies all of us – pre-modern life is what was truly fragmented. We are now all painfully and persistently aware of the various modern problems which we cannot escape.

The Existential Parameters of High Modernity

The Future is the driving force of high modernity – or rather the attempt to colonise it based on the use of knowledge. We do this in the context of risk – We are all confronted with uncertainty because the rise of competing expert systems just makes us more uncertain. Expert knowledge has failed to make the world more predictable.

Why Modernity and Personal Identity?

Because never before has there been a time when so many people have been unified into the demands to reflexively make themselves – it is the institutional context of modernity which makes this possible – Globalisation, and abstract systems demand that we engage in self-construction, and therapy becomes central to this.

Anthony GIddens
Anthony Giddens

Related Posts 

Modernity and Self Identity – Chapter Two Summary

Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – summarised in 14 bullet points

Some introductory questions on Giddens’ Sociological Thought – to get students thinking (dangerous, I know)

Theory.Org has a useful outline of Giddens’ thought

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Assess the Contribution of Post/ Late Modern Perspectives to our Understanding of Crime and Deviance (30)

An essay plan on Post/ Late Modern perspectives on crime and deviance covering the relationship between consumerism and crime (Robert Reiner), The Vertigo of Late Modernity (Jock Young), the consequences of globalisation for crime, and the rise of cyber crime, all followed by some evaluations and a conclusion. 

Brief intro outlining the key ideas of Post/ Late Modernism

  • Postmodern society is different to modern society – It is more consumerist, and individuals have more freedom of choice than ever before.
  • Late Modernists argue that crime has changed in some fundamental ways in the age of postmodernity

Point One – Consumer society is a high crime society (Robert Reiner)

  • Crime started to rise in the 1950s with the birth of consumerism
  • 80% of crime is property crime, suggesting a link between the increase in materialism and the rise of crime
  • Rapid crime increase became especially pronounced with the neoliberal policies of Thatcher

Point Two – The ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’ (uncertainty) explains crime and deviance today (Jock Young)

  • Postmodern life is insecure – neither jobs nor relationships are for life. These instabilities create a constant state of ‘anomie’ or meaninglessness.
  • Thus people no longer find security in their jobs/ relationships, and they thus look for thrills at weekends to give their life meaning – risk taking behaviour is the norm (‘edgework’) and much crime is an outcome of this.
  • Winlow’s study of night-time violence supports this, as does Katz’s work on ‘Edgework’.

Point Three – Globalisation has resulted in many new types of crime

  • Postmodern culture is global – there are many new flows of money, goods, technologies and ideas which open up new opportunities for crime.
  • Some of the most significant types of global crime are drug-crime, people trafficking, cybercrime and the global terrorist threat.
  • One thing fuelling this is global inequality (demand and supply).
  • One major consequence is the increase awareness of ‘risk consciousness’ and the increase in fear, especially because of the perceived terrorist threat.

Point Four – New Technologies open up new opportunities for crime, especially cyber-crime

  • Cybercrime is one of the fastest growth areas of crime and this is global in nature.
  • Fraud is one type of crime – such as the Nigerian Romance Scam.
  • Cyber-stalking and harassment also seems to be more common than face to face crimes of this nature.
  • Governments are also under threat from ‘cyber attacks’ from foreign powers.

Overall Evaluations

Positive Negative
+ Society and the nature of crime do seem to have changed in recent years, so it’s worth revisiting the ‘underlying causes’

+ Better than Marxism and Feminism as these theories look at crime more generally, rather than just focussing on issues of power.

– On closer inspection there doesn’t seem to be much new in many late-modern theories of crime – much of it just seems to be Strain Theory updated.

– These theories may be too general to be useful to anyone. If there are multiple causes of crime, which are complex and global, we have no clue what to do to control crime?!?

Conclusion – How useful are post (late) modern theories in helping us understand crime and deviance

On the plus side it is clear that the nature of crime has changed with the onset of a global, hyper-connected postmodern society.

However, we might not need a completely new batch of theories to understand these changes. Marxists, for example, would say that we can understand much global crime, and even much ‘local crime’ because of the increase in economic inequalities which are part of globalisation.

Related Posts 

Modernity, Post-Modernity, and Late-Modernity 

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Modernity, Post-Modernity and Late Modernity

Some of the Key Features of Modernity and Post-Late Modernity and Modern, Post-Modern and Late Modern Thought. 

Historical Period

Time Period

Key Features of Society

Modernity

1650 to 1950 (ish)

  • Clear social structure (class/ gender)

  • The nuclear family

  • Jobs for life

  • Nation States and Politics

  • Trust in Science

  • A belief in ‘progress’

Post and Late Modernity (the Same)

1980 (ish) to the present day

  • Globalisation

  • Uncertainty

  • Consumerism

  • More Individual Freedom

  • More Diversity

  • The media and Hyper-reality

Theory

Society

The Individual

Knowledge

Examples

Modernism

Structured, institutions important stable, ordered,

Individual shaped by society

Objective knowledge is possible, it can lead to progress

Marxism

Post-Modernism

Institutions less powerful, media and consmer culture all important

Individual free to construct their own identity

Objective knowledge is not possible, it just leads to oppression

Lyotard

Late Modernism

Global institutions and abstract systems both constrain and empower individuals

The Individual has no choice but to construct their identity

Knowledge is still useful to help steer late-modernity, but it is fraught with uncertainties

Giddens

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What is Sociology? (According to Giddens in Modernity and Self-Identity)

This is a rough outline of some of the purposes Sociology might be put to according to Giddens, gleaned from a reading of his ‘Modernity and Self-Identity 

  1. Doing research to inform the ongoing process of reflexive modernisation at an institutional level
  2. Doing research into how flexible structures and what extent these structures are used (used by) to either constrain or empower people
  3. Helping people to realise that they are still dependent on ‘structures’ and dispelling the ‘myth of total individual freedom’.
  4. Encouraging people to consider moral and existential issues when they engage in the construction of self-identities and thereby helping people be more effective agents in the ongoing (re) constitution of society.
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Postmodern and Late Modern Views of Education – A Summary

The Postmodernist View of Education 

  • Postmodernists stand against universalising education systems – it there is no one truth, then it is not appropriate to have a one size fits all education system.
  • Modernist education is oppressive to many students – students give up their freedom for 11 years in order to learn knowledge which will improve their life chances – this does not work for everyone.
  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include –
  1. Home Education
  2. Liberal forms of education (Summerhill School)
  3. Adult Education and Life Long Learning (because adults can make more of a choice)
  4. Education outside of formal education (leisure)

The Late-Modernist View of Education

  • At an Institutional level education (mainly schools) become a fundamental part of the reflexive institutional landscape of Post-Fordist late-modernity
  • Education policy is one of the things which the New Right and New Labour governments can and have used to ‘colonise the future’ by (a) providing opportunities for reskilling in an ever changing global labour market and (b) to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.
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Explaining the increase in family and household diversity (part 2/3)

4. Feminism: Changing Gender Roles

Liberal Feminists and Late Modernists would point to the increasing number of women going into work as one of the most important underlying structural shifts in Late Modern Society.

Rather than needing to depend on men for their financial independence, women are now much more likely to focus on building a career before ‘settling down’ and starting a family. This goes some way to explaining the increase in single person households. The increased earning power of women also explains the growth of the number of never-married women who choose to have babies on their own. While this only accounts for a relatively small proportion of single parent households, such numbers are increasing.

Women’s increased financial independence has also led to relationships becoming more fragile and thus helps explain the increase in single parent households and single person households following divorce.

Evaluation: It is important not to overstate the extent of ‘women’s liberation’ – In 2012, women accounted for 91 per cent of lone parents with dependent children and men the remaining 9 per cent. These percentages have changed little since 1996. Women are more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for any children when relationships break down, and therefore become lone parents.

5. Social Policies

There are two important policies which lie behind many of the above changes – the 1969 Divorce Act and the 1972 Equal Pay Act.

In addition to the above, The New Right believe that overly generous welfare benefits have created an underclass in the UK, and a subsection of this underclass consists of teenage girls who choose to get pregnant in order to get a council house and live a comfortable life on welfare.

Evaluations (of the New Right): In reality, only 2% of single parents are teenagers, which is hardly a significant proportion compared to the overall numbers.

Also, it is not so much the benefits system which is to blame – The money is simply not enough to encourage someone to have a child to get housed – If you are on benefits, whether you have a child or not, you get enough to exist rather than to have a comfortable life. (The current weekly Jobseekers allowance is under £60/ week).

6. Late Modernism

Late Modern Sociologists argue against Postmodernists. The increase in family diversity is not simply a matter of individuals having more freedom of choice and choosing to live alone or become a single parent, people are forced into these options because of structural changes making life more uncertain.

Firstly, most people don’t choose to live with their parents until they are 30, and most people don’t choose to live in a multigenerational household, they do so because they have to out of economic necessity.

Secondly, most people still want to get married and have children, but fewer people do so because of an increase in ‘risk consciousness’ – There is more uncertainty about what a ‘normal relationship’ is. Changing roles of men and women and changing expectations of relationships and family life result in young people being more reluctant to settle down in a classic long term relationship.

Thirdly, Ulrich Beck also talks about indivdualisation – a new social norm is that our individual desires are more important than social commitments, and this makes marriage less likely. People are more likely to go through a series of monogamous relationships (serial monogamy) – which means cohabiting for a few years and then back to living alone again and then so on.

Finally, Anthony Giddens argues that the typical type of relationship is the ‘pure relationship’… it exists solely to meet the partners’ needs and is likely to continue only so long as it succeeds. Couples stay together because of love, happiness of sexual attraction rather than for tradition or for the sake of the children. In short, we have increased expectations of marriage, and if it doesn’t work for us, then we get a divorce, increasing the amount of single person and single parent and then reconstituted families.

6. Other Factors Explaining the Increase in Family and Household Diversity

  • Fewer people today are living in couples; there has been a big rise in the number of people living alone, and in 2006 almost three in ten households contained only one person. Half of all one person households are people of pensionable age. Many women in their 70s and 80s live alone simply because there are too few partners available in their age group – women marry men who are older than them and men die younger.
  • The massive expansion in higher education has seen the number of undergraduate students triple since 1970, from 414,000 to 1.27 million – this means more young adults are not in work and economically dependent on their parents for longer.

Evaluating the idea that there is increasing family diversity (part 3 of 3)

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The Postmodern Perspective on The Family

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This post is designed to help you revise for the AS Sociology Families and Households Exam

Postmodernists argue that we no longer live in the modern world with predictable orderly structures, such as the nuclear family. Instead society has entered a new, chaotic postmodern stage. In postmodern society, family structures are incredibly varied and individuals have much more freedom of choice in aspects of their lives which would have been relatively constrained in the past i.e. lifestyles, personal relationships ad family arrangements.

Postmodern society has two key characteristics

1. Diversity and fragmentation
Society is increasingly fragmented, with a broad diversity of subcultures rather than one shared culture. People create their identity from a wide range of choices, such as youth subcultures, sexual preferences and social movements such as environmentalism.

2. Rapid social change
New technology such as the internet, email and electronic communication have transformed our lives by dissolving barriers of time and space, transforming patterns of work and leisure and accelerated pace of change making life less predictable.

As a result of these social changes, family life has become very diverse and there is no longer one dominant family type (such as the nuclear family). This means that it is no longer possible to make generalisations about society in the same way that modernist theorists such as Parsons or Marx did in the past.

Postmodernity and The Family

Examples of Two Post-Modernist Thinkers

Stacey (1998) “The Divorce-Extended Family”

Judith Stacey argues that women have more freedom than ever before to shape their family arrangement to meet their needs and free themselves from patriarchal oppression. Through case studies conducted in Silicon Valley, California she found that women rather than men are the driving force behind changes in the family. She discovered than many women rejected the traditional housewife role and had chosen extremely varied life paths (some choosing to return to education, becoming career women, divorcing and remarrying). Stacey identified a new type of family “the divorce-extended family” – members are connected by divorce rather than marriage, for example ex in laws, or former husband’s new partners.

Hareven (1978) “Life Course Analysis”

Tamara Hareven advocates the approach of life course analysis, that is that sociologists should be concerned with focus on individual family members and the choices that they make throughout life regarding family arrangements. This approach recognises that there is flexibility and variation in people’s lives, for example the choices and decisions they make and when they make them. For example, when they decide to raise children, choosing sexuality or moving into sheltered accommodation in old age.

Criticisms of Postmodernism

  • Late-Modernists such as Anthony Giddens suggest that even though people have more freedom, there is a still a structure which shapes people’s decisions
  • Contemporary Feminists disagree with Postmodernism, pointing out that in most cases traditional gender roles which disadvantage women remain the norm.

Related Posts 

The Personal Life Perspective on the Family

The Late Modern Perspective on the Family

If you like this sort of thing, you might also like these revision videos on YouTube