Family life, the politics of the family, and social transformation

Abstract
Why do families matter? Is it simply because of their role in social reproduction, or does this ignore the personal goods, the benefits and burdens, of intimate life? Does an emphasis on the formative role of families risk treating them merely as serving the state and divert attention from the rights of persons to form families and the rights - and needs - of children to nurturing relationships? What kind of social and economic transformation would be necessary to implement a normative vision of family that supports families, is egalitarian, and respects diversity? What is the best way to rectify women's continuing disproportionate responsibility for house work and care work - enlisting the state or pressuring men? Is an egalitarian vision of family life, in which promoting sex equality within marriage a proper governmental task, consonant with basic liberal principles, or is it a transformative project that ignores human nature and basic sex difference, corrupts family life, and infringes on women's - and men's - religious freedom? This essay responds to those questions, raised by several political scientists and political theorists in a symposium about my book, The Place of Families: Fostering Capacity, Equality, and Responsibility (Harvard, 2006).
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