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13. Families of choice

 

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‘Families of choice’ refers to intimate or close relationships that are chosen, rather than given via blood or marriage. The concept was first used in Kath Weston’s 1991 book, Families We Choose, which argued that lesbian, gay & bisexual (LGB) people use the term ‘family’ to describe partnerships, parent-child relationships and friendships.

‘Families we choose’  emphasises the social construction of ‘family’, a term that LGB people were taking up in political and personal ways. Their social networks crossed household lines and embraced creativity, allowing individuals to define who was important to them and counted as family. Yet Weston was clear that such forms did not rest upon free choice, since there were patterns in who was counted, and the notion of choice is rather limited in sociological terms.

‘Families of choice’ was taken up and developed in Weeks, Heaphy & Donovan’s Same Sex Intimacies. The LGB people they interviewed emphasised the creativity and politics involved in the formation of new ideas about family. Family was defined via “practical, everyday activities” , and via mutual forms of care. Friendship networks, a commitment to egalitarian relationships, LGB community involvement and parenting were all key features of chosen families.

The term has been criticised, since it is not the case that all LGB people use it, neither do they necessarily reject biologically-based kinship nor always develop egalitarian relationships. In Heaphy, Smart & Einarsdottir’s recent study Same-Sex Marriages: New Generations, New Relationships, LGB people interviewed often prioritised the couple and family of origin over friendship networks, and sometimes emphasised their ordinary family life, rather than any political rejection of standard forms.   Spencer and Pahl have also argued that a given/chosen dichotomy is simplistic, and that all kin relations contain elements of both

Further reading

Families We Choose (1991) by Kath Weston

Same Sex Intimacies (2001) by Catherine Donovan, Brian Heaphy and Jeffrey Weeks

Same-Sex Marriages: New Generations, New Relationships (2013) by Brian Heaphy, Carol Smart and Anna Einarsdottir

Rethinking Friendship: Hidden Solidarities Today (2006) by Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl

 

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