Reflexivity over and above convention: the new orthodoxy in the sociology of personal life, formerly sociology of the family




There is a new orthodoxy in the field that was once understood as the sociology of the family, and is increasingly understood as the sociology of ‘personal life’, ‘intimacy’, ‘relationships’ and ‘families’. The orthodoxy highlights the open-endedness of intimate relations at the expense of the family as an institution; that is, reflexivity over and above convention. This article argues that the new orthodoxy not only overstates reflexivity at the expense of convention, but abdicates understanding to frameworks grounded in biologistic and economistic understandings of human behaviour. The article makes its point through attention to three areas of research at odds with the new orthodoxy: paternity uncertainty, inheritance and family business. It then proposes that conceptualization of the family as an institutional regime gives due weight to the reflexive reconfiguration of family relationships and practices on the one hand, and their institutional embeddedness on the other.