Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.


+2 votes
What is family? What are its different manifestations?

Is it inherently patriarchal/matriarchal/authoritarian?

Does it inherently promote gender roles?

If so, can it be restructured along anarchist principals, or abandoned?

If not, how is it compatible with anarchism?
by (320 points)

4 Answers

+1 vote
I would think it would be a self-defined sort of system. I know I have several people in which my feelings are the same definition in which society deems. Gender I feel isn't an issue with family if self-defined, I could have a woman who I feel is my father figure more then any other man in my life.
by (230 points)
+1 vote
By the family structure, are you referring to the nuclear family? There are many family structures that work quite well in anarchic societies. Often these are bigger than mom/dad/kids. These often involve many aunts and uncles, grandparents, many of whom may or may not be blood relatives.

I think that family structure can be what one makes of it. It is not inherently anything, unless we reproduce the gender roles, authoritarian structures, and oppressions. Granted, we carry with us the shit we learned from our culture and civilization, so it is easier to say that we can undo the patriachal gender roles of the nuclear family than to do it, but that does not mean it is impossible.

If a couple chooses to be with each other exclusively (or not) and raise children that they gave birth to (or didn't) that is merely one structure - when it starts to be sanctioned by state and religion to the exclusion of other forms of family, that is where the problem comes in, and it isn't even a problem for the family in question, but rather for the other groups who are now unsanctioned, and thus, in the eyes of god and the state unfamilies.

I think as people move more and more towards libertarian relations in all aspects of their lives, the monogamous nuclear family will become less and less desireable to most people in contrast to wider webs of familial support and mutual aid, but it isn't inherently unanarchist, if freely entered (meaning with the opportunity to freely be disolved).
by (22.1k points)
edited by
again, edited because I generally suck at editing out the gate.
This appears to be how I understand the potential of an anarchist family.  The husband, wife and 2.5 children model of family where the other extensions of family are put in a more distant length (mothers or fathers of the husband or wife, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins, siblings of the husband or wive, etc. all expected to live with their own family structures unless facing social or economic difficulties) seems absurd and goes against the more successful family structures in capitalism (wealthy families that maintain their ties).  While I can accept the individual as their own sovereign able to build the kind of life they desire, the relationships of capitalism seem to suggest casting aside family relationships for the material success of the individual, who is then reabsorbed into the patriarchal system once they are able to build a small family and produce children.  While capitalism, if understood primarily as an economic system, can have many different types of family, the definition of family is more typically defined by the subject of capitalism, the capitalist, through their understandings of family (patriarchy) and religion (social values).  The intervention of the state into the definition of family is also part of this process, with inheritance, the definition of marriage, legal rights on how to control an individual within the families mental and physical health should the individual seem unable to do so for themselves.

Other parts of the family, baby's daddy or mommy, close friends, legal guardians, adopted children etc. are also accepted into how today's family is defined in some ways, but holds less sway in other ways with the ability to contest whether an individual with less strong blood ties can be considered part of the family or if they might instead belong to a different family.
To continue my comments.  Family in an anarchistic way would run contrary to the social order, but not necessarily because the family should be shaped as anti-social-order.  It just would happen to, as most families have values that hold themselves in a greater or lesser extent in conflict with the values of the capitalist economic system.  Family for the capitalist, as the subject of capitalism, is often as much of an institution as a business or university is.  Those not the subject of capitalism, the subjected, gain here and there in how the definition of family and the values of family are defined, but also lose much.

The materialism of the life we currently live in has to support defined beginnings and ends to marriage as it does to death.  There are large benefits to remaining outside a family structure in capitalism.  A professional, as a skilled servant of capitalism, tends to be rewarded more for allowing their occupation to take up most of their time and thus become their life.  

In a way, "occupation" makes sense in the double entendre.  Capitalism for the professional has occupied their life, has invaded it and taken residence.  Even for the less "professional" professional, there is more focus on their job than the traditional working class and often the capitalist.  The rewards for the professional are large for removing family considerations or allowing them to become secondary, often to the point of neglect.

The unsklled working class (i.e. precariat), as subjected to capitalism, is also subjected to the greater social order.  It is not just the economic system of the capitalist, but the government and civil society that has the working class under control.  Religion, unions, addiction treatments, prison, schooling, "therapeutic" meetings, medical assistance, social security, child welfare services, child support, homeless shelters, section 8 housing, etc.  Often the working life of the unskilled working class is an escape from the problems of society rather than considered a problem.  Family has often become an ugly thing to them, plagued with issues, constant fights within the family and attempts to hold the family together against government and civil society's interventions.  Religion steps in and sometimes there is deep spiritual agreement, but other times, religion is indoctrination, teaching the individual to accept the way things are.

So an anarchistic family may challenge all of this, but may very well also face the same issues of control that all families suffer from.  It isn't just because the social norms are attempts for an egalitarian life, the attempts to remove family hierarchy and patriarchal attitudes.  It isn't because religion is questioned and a spirituality is found that doesn't impose itself on the individual and family.  These things might be challenged now, but there is a relationship to society that can't be broken.  We can avoid and escape, attempt to form safe spaces, but this dodging is not freedom, it is an expression of fear.  The family is still defined by its legal relationships, its relationships to the social norms of society, the dominant cultures, the dominant religions.

It makes sense to create our own families, as anarchists.  It makes sense to find and share values with others that are similar to us in an attempt to form communities with each other.  But it also makes sense for the anarchist to acknowledge that we can not escape or hide from society and that deviation from the dominant cultures that define our present order will see our lives intruded upon.  Just as we aim to form affinity groups of attack, our families may need the same kind of considerations.
–2 votes
In the matriarchal system of the Trobrianders researched by Malinowski in the late 1800's children were brought up by the mother and her brother(s).
The father did not live in the same house as his children and this neatly sidestepped the oedipus complex which meant that there was no sexual conflict between father and his offspring. It was a society with no sexual taboos, no sexual peversions such as rape, or sexual dysfunction and was exceptionally sexually free as evidenced by the fact that parents built huts on the edge of each village where adolescents could carry out sexual experimentation with zero interference from their elders. their is also evidence that this sexual experimentation did not lead to unwanted pregnancy. The Trobrianders explained to Malinowski that intercourse only led to pregnancy if the couple involved regularly eat at the same table with eachother. Therefore the fact that the brother was the man who regularly eat at the same table as the mother and children was a very natural form of birth control without having to use rubbers or chemicals which have a detrimental effect on people and their lovemaking.  
By far the most positive effect of this setup was that it produced human beings who did not grow up full of neuroses and people who dont have neuroses have a natural morality which is not organised in their heads but in their hearts. this means that they don't have to think if something is immoral or not because their heart sings when they are confronted with anything good and their belly aches when confronted with anything that smells rotten. This system works very well and is always correct and neatly sidesteps judging others actions.
Neurotic people , however have lost the ability to listen to their hearts and bellies and have to approach every question of morality with their intellect (or lack of) and are constantly forced into judging others which often leads to even more peverse situations. Sexual repression is why we have pornography. Or put another way , if their was no sexual repression and everyone was sexually functional then noone would have the slightest interest in pictures of other people doing it.
The Trobrianders had the most anarchistic society I have heard of and it appears to be their lack of sexual repression which was the main reason why their society was so succesful.
+1 vote
Family is a very subjective word. People today tend to think of it as a group of at least one adult and one child who are biologically related and live together. But a young person in her twenties might consider her friends to be her family. Ancient cultures considered the entire tribe to be one big family and shared child-rearing responsibilities as well as other familial 'duties.' And then, what about an adopted child? Obviously blood relation, age, and size are variables. If we wanted to be Wittgensteinian about it, we might say that the word 'family' has a family of meanings (I couldn't help myself).

With so many possible iterations, a family is not inherently anything other than a group of people related in one way or another (biologically, relationally, etc.). There are families with two female parents, two male parents, single parents, no parents at all. Furthermore, gender roles are promoted consciously or unconsciously by society and by individuals; but they are not inherent in any social structure per se.

An anarchistic family would be similar to what Max Stirner called a "union of egoists"; it would be a group of individuals who act according to their own wants and desires and commiserate and assist one another because they want to do so. I think a family like this would be steeped in authoritative values whereas a hierarchically structured family would be based upon authoritarian values.

The difference between the two is that an authoritative family would have certain agreed upon rules or morés that everyone voluntarily accepts; all understand the reasons for the rules and respect each others' autonomy. And, if a member no longer wishes to follow the rules, they can leave the unit, petition to have them changed, or just ignore them and see what happens. Speaking of a parent/child family in this way might sound like a utopian pipedream, but I think children respect explanation much more than threats (who doesn't?). Every child will test boundaries and hell raise (and that's good). The important thing is that their parents reveal to them--by example and through explanation--the logic behind their positions, but also that they give their children breathing room to create themselves at the same time. This breeds responsibility and independence. Parenting--like teaching--should NOT be an assembly line job, cranking out carbon copy children/citizens. It's that kind of thinking that leads to the construction of an authoritarian household, one run by self-proclaimed alphas who rule with iron fists and drag out the old standby "Because I said so," coercing other members into submission by advertising their superior might.

Still (and I hope I'm not alone in this) I think that force is sometimes necessary in familial relationships. If my child is running toward a busy intersection and will not heed my warnings to stop, I would be a fool to let him go. A good parent scoops the kid up and THEN explains the logic behind his action. Or, if a close friend of mine climbs behind the wheel of his car after downing five whiskeys, I will take his keys by force if he is too belligerent to offer them up.

Let's not forget: Humans are social animals; we crave love and companionship. The family is a fluid, complex institution that can be bad or good depending on its members, but it will never disappear. Besides, the typical nuclear family has never really been typical anyway...and that's good. People should be encouraged to freely associate with whomever they wish and to form or join families that suit and fulfill their own unique personalities. Therefore, regarding your last point: to abandon the family altogether (if we are using my broad definition) would not only be impossible and pointless, it would also be downright detrimental.
by (1.6k points)
edited by