Carle Zimmerman Revisited

Eminent sociologist Carle Zimmerman’s Family and Civilization is widely considered to be a classic. It is a tour de force on family structure. And its largely accurate prophecies make its age (over 70 years) even more valuable. It’s not clear whether Zimmerman’s succinct first sentence is motivated by his profession or his interest as a concerned citizen: “No problem is more interesting and vital ´to us than that of the family.” Family is at the heart of sociology, near the heart of economics and psychology, and a key to any social science. And the health of the family is clearly vital to the functioning of society. But this simple opening is only a terse introduction to a complex topic. It will take an entire book for Zimmerman to describe three types of families, trace the history of family structure from the ancient Greeks to the modern West, argue for cause/effect in the evolution of family structure, briefly detail the debate in the field of sociology on these matters, and lay out his predictions for the future of the family in the West. Debate Among Sociologists Zimmerman finishes his introduction with an overview of the contemporary debate between the two basic schools of thought on family within the field of sociology.[1] Both chart the history and future of the family in evolutionary terms. The “Chicago School” saw the world through Progressive and Marxist lenses. Improved versions of marriage and family will naturally arise and thrive over time, in line with the proponents’ conception of Progress. And a Marxist focus on materialism implies that such changes are largely driven by the natural environment—most importantly, by economic factors (e.g., industrialization, higher wages). Zimmerman and others (most notably, his friend and colleague Pitirim Sorokin) had an evolutionary perspective that is: more contingent (progress is not always Progress); more dependent on external factors (beyond a handful of economic factor
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