Explore the changing conjugal roles within Coventry and the degree of equality within the family unit Essay

My objective for this investigation will be to explore the changing conjugal roles within Coventry and the degree of equality within the family unit, linking in issues of social class and gender. My motivation has been influenced in the knowledge that my mother undertakes most of the domestic chores and my aim will be to identify what percentage of other families are similar or, alternatively, whether joint conjugal roles are implemented.

My investigation will also question whether conjugal roles really do exist, using sociologist such as Ann Oakley to examine how relevant her research is today, some 25 years on.

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Contexts and Concepts

One major concept I have chosen, in support of my key aim, is the social class aspect because there is a clear divide within society. Social class is directly related to income. It can be argued that those who are middle class are in less strenuous employment which uses their intellectual capabilities whereas the working class assume a more ‘hands-on’ physical role, such as factory production line workers, which ultimately leaves them more physically drained and less able to undertake domestic chores.

In l974 Ann Oakley, a Marxist feminist, conducted a very in depth study to identify women’s roles within the family unit. Her research will help to provide me with the foundation and form the context of my investigation. In many ways, I feel her research is still relevant in today’s society, as the concept of inequality still exists. She interviewed twenty working class women and twenty middle class women between the ages of 20-30. She argued that most marriages from both classes, showed low participation in housework by husbands, so few could be described as egalitarian. However, Oakley also claims that there is a small degree of equality in domesticity in middle class compared to working class families. Her research provides a Marxist explanation for the change of women’s roles throughout the years and is still regarded an important piece of sociological research.

My second concept is gender. Studies indicate that only a minority of couples genuinely share housework and childcare. Potentially biased studies carried out by feminists indicate that unemployed men do some work in the house but even when their wife is in full time employment, the women still do more. Feminists such as Oakley and Bott suggest that unemployed men resist involvement in housework because it threatens their masculinity.

Elizabeth Bott’s research was conducted in the 1950’s, nevertheless I feel it is still relevant today. Bott’s work, Family and Social Networks, distinguishes between two polar types of conjugal role relationship, segregated and joint. In the segregated case, men and women have a clear differentiation of tasks and a considerable number of separate interests and activities. In joint relationships, many tasks are carried out together with a minimum of task differentiation. However, she also noted that in all families there is a clear division of labour.

Both contexts are relevant because they both indicate different types of research methods and offer good opinions. (398)

Main research method and reasons

The research method that I have chosen to use will be the interpretivist approach of quality in-depth unstructured interviews. I have chosen this qualitative technique because, although time consuming, exposes relevant views that cannot be easily revealed by any questionnaire. This approach develops trust between the interviewer and the participant, allowing opportunity to talk to the participant in a more informal everyday conversational manner. This will allow me to define priorities and steer the interview towards significant areas.

Wilmot and Young used a one-question methodology which was insufficiently substantial to gain a balanced study, and my study should avoid this. Using open questioning, the participant may be more prepared to confide in the researcher on issues that may otherwise remain hidden.

The methodology I will use is a bottom-up theory which analyses society through the eyes of the individual. The unstructured interview will offer a key advantage in terms of gaining realistic, vivid data and interviewees may feel more at ease in an open interview situation and further expand their answer. I will use an opportunity sample which is very similar to quota sampling in which the main characteristic of the UK population are known, a particular quota of individuals whom they must find and question. This should result in an accurate reflection of the whole population. There are other methods that could be used, but the problem of limiting the respondent’s answer may arise.

My research subjects will consist of twelve couples, six middle class and six working class which should be sufficient to evaluate and make an accurate generalisation. A variety of family combinations will be required so that I am able to compare the results from each interview. For example, three working class and three middle class, both married and with children and three middle class and three working class without children. Couples and genders will be interviewed separately so partners do not influence them.

In principle, this forms a similar structure to that used by Ann Oakley and this will enable me to fulfil my aim by examining how relevant her research is today. The subjects, taken from mixed social class, will give an appropriate balance of male and female within each family unit and will allow opportunity to explore my concepts of both social class and gender.

I will conduct a pilot interview to ensure that all the teething problems are ironed out.

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Potential problems

Positivists would argue that my unstructured method of research is time consuming and my data lacks quantity. They would debate that my choice and size of sample group might be compromising, not accurately reflecting society as a whole.

It could be said that without structured questioning, the participant has opportunity to lie about sensitive issues and this would affect the validity of the results.

To encourage a qualitative response, my questioning will be open – potentially allowing my subjects free flow of unlimited conversation in their answers. Interviews could therefore be extremely time consuming following which notes will need to be interpreted, transcribed and evaluated. Taking notes during the interview has potential to disrupt the flow of conversation and errors could be made when transcribing. A recording machine would avoid this.

The participant might lack enthusiasm, destroying the dynamics of the interview. This would therefore be important factor in the subject selection criteria. In addition, some subjects may feel questions are loaded, implying a positive or negative bias. Clearly, this would dramatically affect the results, making some answers unreliable.

With reference to my original aim, I anticipate that the results should be equivocal. Therefore if the results I obtain dramatically differ from one and other, then I will be unable to make an accurate generalisation.

The Sociologists I have used to form the context of my thesis might be problematic since they share similar views i.e. one sided and potentially biased.

Due to the detail I am proposing to cover, interviews will be time consuming and difficult to conduct in one day. This means that both members of the family should be interviewed on the same day to avoid conferring over the answers.

Some aspects of the interview may be perceived to be personal, raising some ethical issues so I will need to be sensitive in my questioning as this could otherwise prove potential for divorce! (317)

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