What is the family of the law? : The influence of the nuclear family model

  • Alan Brown

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis argues that the legal understanding of 'family' is underpinned by a particular idealised image of the family; the 'nuclear family',comprising the nexus of the conjugal relationship and the 'parent/child'relationship. I contend that this model of family is premised upon the traditional, distinct, gendered roles of 'father as breadwinner' and 'mother as homemaker', which in turn are associated with the historical, liberal understanding of the 'public/private' divide and the orthodox construction of the legal subject as rational, autonomous and self-interested. Theinfluence of the nuclear familyis notedin several different contexts: various specific legal definitions of 'family', the legal regulation of adult, conjugal relationships, the attribution of legal parenthood and the construction of the role of the 'parent' within the law.This examination of the law's model of the'family'has been prompted by the substantial reforms undertaken in family law in recent decades and the significant evolution in both social attitudes and familial practices that has occurred in parallel over that time. Ultimately, this thesis concludes that while these reforms have resulted in additional categories of relationship coming to be situated within the nuclear family model (notably unmarried cohabitants and same-sex couples), there has not, as yet, been any fundamental alteration of the underpinning concept of the nuclear family itself.
Date of Award19 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorMary Neal (Supervisor) & Kenneth Norrie (Supervisor)

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