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Family Rhythms: The Changing Textures of Family Life in Ireland

Ralph, David, Gray, Jane and Geraghty, Ruth

Manchester University Press, (2016)
ISBN: 9780719091520 (pb)

Reviewed by Amy Andrada, University of Edinburgh

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Cover of Family Rhythms: The Changing Textures of Family Life in Ireland Family Rhythms: The Changing Textures of Family Life in Ireland is an interesting mix of text-book meets qualitative research and academic family literature. Instead of the traditional approach of outlining terms and concepts, the book bolds specific terminology while incorporating academic language seamlessly into the text. Simultaneously, the authors utilize valuable longitudinal qualitative datasets and panels of landmark studies while incorporating a macro-social per-spective as markers which both identify and expand the subject. By structuring the content in this manner the book encourages a sociological theoretical undertaking to those not familiar with in-depth family literature. By examining dynamics shifts within the Irish family the book high-lights the importance of the group, using both national and international perspectives.

The longitudinal qualitative data collected throughout the twenty century concerning Irish families, captures changing attitudes and perspectives, family patterns, and social policy. Contextually, the book takes on a life course approach from childhood, early adulthood, the middle years, to grandparenthood. Partitioned into three sections, the quest to question modern families in conjunction with its evolution aids the textual designations towards its culminating approach concerning a “re-visioning” of Irish family life that the book examines. The focus is consistent with recent inductive approaches found in current studies of family life. This approach aids the reader in examining the literature with a vantage toward the act of family and of “doing”, rather than the structure of it, which is traditionally common within the social sciences.

Although Family Rhythms takes a unique position in its depiction of family studies, it continues in traditional fashions by incorporating a macro-sociological framework. This approach is necessary in order to depict “…broad societal shifts in demography, value systems, household economies, and patterns of kinship, community and public life” (p.197) of the Irish family. In addition, each societal shift is aligned in some manner with life stages. Set within the interwoven life course and macro-social approaches, this framing offers invaluable insight into the similar and alternating experiences within this ethnic group and, comparatively, within the European context.

The unique approach value of the book is its combined textbook and research setting. Although not new, the book does execute the combined approach rather successfully, a task not easily accomplished. The transitions between subtopics and individual chapters are effective, allowing a continued appreciation of the literature to go uninterrupted. In addition, an in-depth critical analysis of acclaimed research in the Irish context helps shed valuable information and serves as a reminder to always consider the group being examined. Even though trends may appear similar, the cultural values and attitudes may be vastly different, resulting in slight differentiations in the society itself, evidence artfully articulated and captured by the authors with this text.

Though Family Rhythms introduces key concepts and theories common in academic family literature and is seemingly user-friendly, the book would have benefited by incorporating a basic analysis of macro-sociological frameworks. For example, an outline of how the Irish family makeup is connected to extended macro-social forces would have offered a better understanding of these patterns. In addition, though the text contains impressive and remarkably dense literature and research, more decisiveness regarding which information is best suited, parsing content, and prompted engagement with the reader would have helped the text maintain its initial textbook position.

Overall, this is an informed academic research-led textbook regarding family formations and developments. The text readily serves as a comprehensive undertaking of the encapsulation of an ethnic group, with its many textures, phases, and transitions regardless of ethnicity. Students or researchers interested in family studies, gender studies, race and/or ethnic relations, and public policy in relation to family life would greatly benefit from this text.