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This term paper is aimed at examining the effects of social change in the family. Using specific examples from the Kenyan context the paper explores the concept of social change and its overall sociological impact upon family. This paper engages with the theoretical underpinnings of social change in an attempt to understand its overwhelming influence in the Kenyan families.
According to Edwards and Graham (2009), a family is a psychological group constituted by at least one adult member and one or more others who work as a group towards mutual need fulfilment, nurturance and development. A family is therefore a social institution that consists of two or more people who are related by blood, marriage or adoption and who live under the same roof. The family is the smallest social institution with the unique function of producing and rearing the young. The family is also the basic agent of socialization because it is in the family where an individual acquires values, behaviours and ways of life by interaction g with other members of the family. The family as a social institution has been really affected by social change. Zanden (1990), defined social change as the significant alteration of social structure and cultural patterns over time. Social change has both positive and negative effects on the Kenyan families. Social change can be driven by cultural, religious, economic or technical forces.
One of the positive effects of social change in the Kenyan family is that previously, the work of socialization was tied to the family but with the introduction of religion and formal education by the Europeans during the colonization period, this role of the family is not the exclusive responsibility of the family but the school and the church are also included. It could be emphasized that in the traditional societies the process of socialization through the adjustment of the individual to his environment both physical and spiritual was through the learning of habit of conduct from generation to generation and the acquisition of knowledge through informal sector training. For example, how to eat, how to talk and even how to walk were learnt by watching, listening and participating and interacting with one another and also taught by the family. The introduction of formal education helped in changing the negative mentality and attitudes among the various members of the traditional extended family system. For instance, during the pre-colonial era some communities especially from Western Kenya believed that it was a taboo to give birth to twins. Women who had the courage to give birth to twins had their babies left in the forests to die. Leprosy and epilepsy were also seen an abominable disease, hence, people who were affected by this disease were labelled as outcasts or cursed and if that person happened to be a woman, then people believed that it was witchcraft which had its own punishment. With the introduction of formal education, people were encouraged to abandon such bad practices and see people with such diseases as not cursed and that such diseases can also be cured (Henslin, 2004).
One negative effect of social change in the Kenya family is that it has helped in entrenching and promoting the concept of individualism among the various tribes and families. The extended family system was practiced in this country prior to the coming of the Europeans. Extended family system is whereby a residential group comprising a series of close relatives built around either by patrilineal or matrilineal lines usually not along both. With this system, any elderly person had the right to counsel or discipline any child going wayward. However, with time, focus has been shifted from the extended family system to a nuclear family which is characterized by individualism. Thus, members of the nuclear family now seek solely their own welfare neglecting that of the extended family (Berger, 1963; Kayongo-Male and Onyango, 1991).
Another negative effect of social change in the Kenyan family was the shifts in mate selection. In traditional pre-colonial times girls used to get married in their teens, that is after their puberty rite. They got married to suitors who may have expressed their interest during the rites, or soon thereafter. However, during the colonial and post-colonial era the need to go to school meant that they should postpone their marriage until they have completed their studies. Apprenticeship is another reason for the postponement of marriages. These apprenticeships became important for boys and girls who were unable to go to or find places in schools or opted directly to acquire specific skills in either carpentry, masonry, tailoring, among others. Globalization is major cause of social change and it has also caused a lot of changes in mate selection. The transfer of western culture to Africa has contributed immensely to social change. Same sex marriages and relationships are now present in the Kenyan society. The concept of family in Kenya is slowly changing (Weisner, Bradley and Kilbride, 2001).
Urbanization is a situation where large population live in urban areas rather than the rural areas. Urbanization has brought job shortages, upsurge of slums, congestion and other social vices. People mainly go to urban areas to look for greener pastures. During pre-colonial era people in Kenya lived mainly in rural areas. There was no need to move from one area to another mainly to look for greener pastures. People usually move from rural areas to towns and citises so that they can work in the industries. Industries are usually built in urban areas like Nairobi, Eldoret and Thika. This resulted in people moving from the areas where there is an absence of basic infrastructure to the cities. As a result the movement into the cities created a high pressure on social amenities, food shortage, up serge of slums among others. Urbanization impacts the family negatively. Urbanization usually causes separation of families. In Kenya it is men who usually go to look for jobs in the cities, women and children are usually left in rural areas this is a form of separation. Those people who move with their families to urban areas and settle in slums usually find a difficult time to socialize their children accordingly because of the social environment and this the main cause of poor child parent relationships experienced in many Kenyan families (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995).
Erosion of some cultural practices is also another impact of social change in the family. When people move to urban areas they stop doing some things that they used to do in their rural areas. When they stop doing some things these practices becomes dormant and they are forgotten with time. An example of a practice that was lost is the cooking with pots and firewood. When people migrate to urban areas they stop cooking the traditional way and adopt new methods such as using ‘sufurias’ and stoves. Successive generations do not acquire these traditional cultural practices so they are lost with time (Berger, 1963; Kayongo-Male and Onyango, 1991)
Family is considered as the oldest social institution in the world. As an institution it performs many important functions and valuable tasks.it provides bedrock for members. Family as a social institution has directly or indirectly got affected due to the rapid social changes. Technology which is considered the basic factor of social change has made important changes in the family structure and organization. Nuclear family has replaced joint family system. Schools and other agencies like baby homes have stolen the basic functions of family. Industrialization and urbanization have weakened the basic fabric of relationships. People rush to work in industries than the agriculture. Kenya is one of the countries of the world where family as a social institution has got a new shape with new assignments. As a result, general masses are migrating from rural areas to the urban. Feudalistic approach of life where females used to be dealt as secondary in social status has vanished to certain extent. This paper has tried to analyse the factors of social change and its overall sociological impact upon family.