For Richer, For Poorer: Re-Imagining and Reclaiming the Family for the Left

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1711 ... November 29, 2018

For Richer, For Poorer: Re-Imagining and Reclaiming the Family for the Left

Anne Steckner

Family affects us all. Many associate the family with (emotional) security, devotion, intimacy and being needed. When all else fails, the family is there, the most important area of life. Yet reality isn’t so simple. In everyday life, family often means squaring the circle, having to manage life by the clock under constant time pressure. A wide range of needs must be attended to, though often exhaustion and excessive work demands gain the upper hand. Time and again, relationships founder on the inflated image of the family and romantic love. For some, the family represents a prison, a place of suffering or violence – the most dangerous place for women and... children.

Regardless of this, the nuclear family continues to be a highly popular model in Germany, lending significant shape to people’s future aspirations. This is hardly surprising, given that the organization of society as a whole is based on this model, from the legal system and the welfare state to architecture, education and psychology. Children’s books and the entertainment industry appear equally unaware of any other forms of life partnerships. Even patchwork families are only rarely anything but recomposed nuclear families. The government, for its part, is constitutionally obliged to protect and promote the family.

The nuclear family’s unbroken appeal is also related to economic changes. The world of work demands that we be flexible at all times. This requires meticulous management of our labour power. Against the backdrop of increasingly socially unprotected living conditions, there is a growing desire for a stable place of retreat. “The siren songs of private-homely familiarity are being heard because of the inhospitality of society,” Frigga Haug and Kornelia Hauser wrote as early as 1985. This is just as valid today: Who gives me security? Who can I reliably trust? Who takes care of the kids when I’m sick? And who takes care of me? These and similar questions are usually dealt with privately.

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