an investigation into the relationship between family and marriage


Marriage and family are vital structures in most societies. These two institutions are present in a significant number of human cultures. However, the relationship between the two social institutions is continuously evolving. For sociologists, an investigation into the relationship between family and marriage proves to be interesting as it sheds light on human relationships and how they evolve.

The concept of marriage, owing to constantly changing social dynamics, has failed to retain a consistent definition. Various disciplines have evolved their particular definition of marriage. However, sociologists have never agreed on a single meaning of the term. However, most do agree a marriage relationship emerges when two people form a social contract, recognized by the law, to be exclusively bound together on a relationship traditionally based on a sexual relationship and reproduction. However, the above definition falls short in recognizing current social trends of same-sex marriages and the increasing number of polygamous relationships. These intricacies present in the social interpretation of a marriage, have commanded the attention of sociologists. Scholars have focused on how society interprets the concept of marriage and to what degree social interpretations of the concept affect other social institutions. For purposes of this paper, marriage is defined as a socially and legally accepted union of two people stemming from a sexual relationship.

The above definition of marriage is important because families are built on top of marriages. Traditionally, the union between two people arising from a sexual relationship often resulted in children and that has come to be accepted as a family. Like marriage, the concept of a family has been evolving owing to various social trends. Families were traditionally thought to be comprised of a husband, a wife, and their children. In the traditional definition of a family, same-sex marriages could not form the basis of a family as they are incapable of having biological children. However, since same-sex marriages are legally seen as families, the social construction of the family is currently under flux. The problem with the traditional definition of a family lies in that it focuses on the structure of a family where each member has a specific obligation and role. There is an increasing need to then incorporate how people relate with each other in the definition of a family to ensure inclusivity. According to sociologists, a family is a socially accepted group – related through blood, marriage, or adoption – with an emotional connection and fulfills the role of a basic economic unit of the society. The above definition of a family allows for the inclusion of new family units formed by the union of same-sex couples and single-parent households. The above definition of a family allowed sociologists to identify two kinds of families. The first, a family of orientation, is one where a person comes into by being born. The second type of family is a family of procreation, referring to a family formed through marriage. The two broad categories of families have made it possible for sociologists to label previously excluded units as families.

Defining Marriage and the Family

As mentioned earlier, scholars are yet to come to a consensus on a universal definition of marriage and the family. Separate disciplines have adopted a definition of marriage and the family to suit their needs. Consequently, the legal and rational definition of marriage in the U.S. is vastly different than that adopted by sociologists. In developing its definition of a marriage, the U.S. legal system declares that a union shall be considered as a marriage when it demonstrates five basic elements. These are the parties to the union who have legal ability to marry each other, mutually agree to the union, and the union does not violate the law. Sociologists, on the other hand, define marriage as a socially accepted and supported union between two or more people with an enduring commitment stemming from a sexual bond.

From the divergent definition of marriage evident above, a single similarity and difference emerge. The most immediate difference between how a sociologist defines marriage and what the law considers a valid marriage to exist in the union of two people. On the other hand, sociologists accept that marriage can exist between two or more people. In that difference, it is evident that the law tends to consider marriage from the traditional perspective. Due to its alignment to the traditional notion of a marriage, the legal definition of marriage further insinuates that a marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. Consequently, same-sex marriages and polygamous unions have not been viewed as valid marriages until recently. Same-sex unions have only recently started to enjoy legal recognition while polygamous and polyandry unions are yet to receive a legal acknowledgement.

On the other hand, sociologists acknowledge that marriage can exist between two or more individuals. They also acknowledge that marriage can exist between couples of the same sex. The sociologist’s definition of marriage, consequently accounts for unions that have traditionally been considered as divergent from the norm. As the discipline realizes that a socially supported accepted structure is indicative of a socially supported structure. Same-sex and polygamous unions have been socially accepted in human history. Consequently, they are gaining social support, and the definition of marriage should thus reflect as much. The most striking similarity between the legal and sociological definitions of marriage is that they both expect the union to be founded on a sexual bond. The law, which adopts a traditional interpretation of marriage, communicates that for a couple to be deemed as married, they must assume the role of husband and wife. Legally, a marriage must be consummated. Refusal by either spouse to consummate the marriage is often used as grounds of divorce. From that perspective, the law requires the union to be based on a sexual relationship, similar to the views of sociologists.

The law goes further than defining the social institution of marriage. The law also stipulates how unions recognized as marriages can be dissolved. The dissolution of a marriage, typically referred to as a divorce, under the law can be caused by the reasons accepted by the law. On the other hand, sociologists have investigated numerous causes of divorce, and some that were deemed pertinent are yet to be recognized by the law. The divorce rate, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“FastStats”, 2018) reported a divorce rate of 2.9 per 1,000 population in 2017. The rate provided by the CDC, also known as the crude divorce rate, is however imprecise. It fails to account for all the states in – only 44 states and Washington D.C reported their divorce statistics. Data collection in states is not uniform with some states failing to report divorce instances in their reporting. As a result, the CDC divorce rate is not indicative of a reliable statistic. Moreover, the CDC, when calculating the divorce rate in the country, lumped single people with married people. That would have the effect of skewing the divorce rate. Furthermore, the figures also lump people from the same generation together. For instance, couples married in the 1980s are lumped together with couples married in the 2000s. Lumping up different age groups can have the effect of skewing the divorce rate. The resulting rate would fail to account for the changing social landscape. For instance, in the 1980s, the divorce rate was at its highest. Failing to account for the impact of the generation married in the 1980s would have on the divorce rate can lead to inaccuracy. The divorce rate needs to take into account the different demographics impacting on the ability of people to stay together.



Assignment Two

Socially Constructed Reality in Making a Murderer (2015)

The socially constructed reality, a collective view of the world generated from individual knowledge and symbolic knowledge, influences the behavior of individuals (Surette 2015, p. 32). The media has a considerable impact on socially constructed realities as it perpetuates a common belief in a large group of people. According to Surette (2015, p. 34), the socially constructed reality tends to define the conditions, trends, and factors accepted as causes of crime, leading to the criminal justice system enacting policies meant to curb the particular crime.

Socially constructed realities are enforced through different strategies, and Surette (2015, p. 36) discusses a few of them including the linkage strategy. By linking the crime to previously established socially constructed reality issues. The claim maker wishing to successfully make use of the linkage strategy must first establish a socially accepted claim. The media has assumed the role of claim-making, intending to use the linkage strategy to impact on the criminal justice system. The documentary, Making a Murderer, employs the linkage strategy in attempting to reform the criminal justice system.

The premise of the documentary is that the criminal justice system is vastly flawed to the point where the accused cannot be guaranteed a fair trial. While documenting the life of Steven Avery, the film reveals that police and prosecution misconduct existed in the case. The evidence on which Avery was convicted over had been tampered in police storage while the jury could not be partial as it comprised of relatives of some of the officers involved in the case. Making a Murderer claimed that the processes of the police investigation and the conviction of criminals needs a reevaluation. Essentially, the film claims that since the criminal justice system cannot assure the fairness and validity of a trial, then it needs to be reexamined to ensure the innocent are not unfairly prosecuted.

The film provides a linkage between the incompetency of the criminal justice system and the prosecution of innocent people. In so doing, the media makes wrongful convictions a pertinent social issue that requires addressing. It perpetuates the idea that the criminal justice system in its current form is inadequate in preventing wrongful convictions. The above claim is founded on a previously existing socially constructed issue of prosecutorial and police misconduct. The correlation with an already existing social issue adds to the validity of wrongful convictions as a social issue. The media consequently uses the linkage strategy to create a socially constructed reality where the criminal justice system is deemed inadequate in the assurance of a fair trial. As a result, the public will demand the introduction of policies meant to guarantee a fair trial for the accused. In that way, the media managed to create a socially constructed reality that impacted the criminal justice system. Through Making of a Murderer, the audience learns of the various shortcomings of the criminal justice system, and how they can affect just about anyone. As a result, the audience gains a desire to see the system remedied.

Predatory Criminality Prisoners (2013)

Another concept developed by Surette (2015, p. 55) is the portrait of a criminal. The media typically portrays criminals as predatory. Their actions are irrational, driven by the criminal animalistic nature. According to Surette (2015, p.55), the predatory criminality image has persisted throughout the media’s history. However, that portrait of a criminal does not reference other kinds of criminals. Not all criminals are predatory. Some criminals are benign, lacking a criminal record, and rational. New media realized that the depiction of the typical criminal is skewed to the innately predatory criminals. As a result, more and more films are depicting a less predatory face of criminals.

The movie Prisoners (2013) is a fitting example of how the media is trying to move away from its stereotypical image of a criminal. In the movie, a man whose daughter was the victim of a kidnapping takes matters into his hand when the police appear to be taking too long in their search. The man accused of the kidnapping is an unassuming young adult without the characteristics of the typical criminal portrayed by the media. The young man does not present behavior that would be considered illogical nor does he appear to resemble the media-created image of a child predator. What’s more, the movie explores the actions of the father who tortures the accused man in an attempt at finding the location of his daughter. The father similarly fails to fit the media-constructed image of a person who can instill pain on another. The father does not have a criminal history nor has he demonstrated behavior that would suggest he is a danger to others. Consequently, the film invites the audience to rethink its perception of a criminal. It invites the public to rethink how criminality is imagined while demonstrating that criminals can be just about anyone in the society. The use of unassuming characters lacking the features people commonly associate with criminals in Prisoners is an attempt by the media to reimagine the social construct of criminality.

The CSI Effect in Chicago P.D.

Surette (2015, p. 95) describes the CSI effect as the unrealistic effect that the media portrayal of the police has on the public. More specifically, after the recent media portrayal of the police from a prosecutorial perspective, the public now believes the police institution has extensive capabilities in the fight against crime. Due to the CSI effect, the public believes that the police can get forensic results in unrealistic time frames and the institution has unlimited resources to fight crime.

The result of the CSI effect, perpetuated by the media’s preference for the crime scene investigator as the new crime-fighting hero (Surette, 2015, p. 95) is that jury pools are biased when it comes to the interpretation of prosecutorial evidence. The CSI effect led to the belief that police investigations and evidence are infallible. The CSI effect has thus poisoned jury pools who are bound to believe the evidence presented by the prosecution than that produced by the defense. Another outcome of the CSI effect is that offenders are now dumping additional materials in crime scenes in an attempt at concealing their identity. In an episode in Chicago P.D, a rapist used a condom to commit several rapes in an attempt to eliminate DNA evidence. The episode continued to demonstrate how the police solved the case through unrealistic CSI technologies. After watching the show, it becomes apparent that the media has been responsible for the generation of a police image crediting the institution with tasks it cannot realistically accomplish. As a result, the public has now come to accept that the police can solve all manner of crimes, and when the institution appears to be unable to solve a crime, the public interprets that as voluntary inaction from the police. The role of the media in the perpetuation of the CSI effect is perhaps the dominant image of law enforcement. The public expects the police to make use of technological advancements in the fight against crime, but due to limited resources, the police institution has been unable to live up to the public image.


FastStats. (2018). Retrieved 6 May 2020, from

Surette, R. (2015). Media, crime, and criminal justice. Nelson Education.

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