Individualisation theorist Essay Example

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Individualization thesis and Australian family and relationships


Intimate relationships have evolved in the recent past to embrace same-sex unions, ‘friends as family’, co-habiting couples and post-divorce families. These relationships impact theory and practice of childhood, family parenting and personal life across cultures in both new and traditional family relations. Moreover, a set of cultural assumptions about families and relationships in the past three decades highlights the individualization thesis that emerged in Europe in the 1990s (Chambers, 2012). Families and relationships are shaped by social inequalities, government policies and cultural customs considering the changing demographics in sexual orientation, ethnic identity, race and gender (Beck, 2002). Australia is one of the countries with diverse cultures and dynamic family setups and relationships. In this essay, the discussion of the individualization thesis takes into consideration the young people in the contemporary Australian experience and their representations of relationships and families.

Individualization thesis from contemporary Australian experience

The main tenets of individualization thesis are ethnic identity, social class, race, gender and sexual orientation. Capturing both the complexity and the richness of people’s lives require theorizations and conceptual distinctions of occupational and educational experiences of people (Chambers, 2012). However, social class and gender have since been disregarded as tenets that least shape life course trajectories. One assumption made is the individualization thesis connects the rise in individual freedom of choice with the period of late modernity. Another assumption is that individual developmental perspectives are interdependent with the family system. However, the context of contemporary society and history has attempted to understand the relevance of individual lives in time and in place (McGoldrick et al., 2015). As a result, it has helped transition the classical social science theory into the modernization concepts such as technological development, distribution of risk, and the new logics of development. While appreciating the role of the individualization thesis in people’s everyday lives, Cetina (1997) suggests that the emergence of class-based societies has seen individuals left to determine their own destinies.

The sense of individuality has witnessed mobility of young people from the families of origin, under the process of individualization, to gainful employment or gain training (Bauman, 1998). The sense of independence and individuality created by this geographical movement created individual decisions and choices regarding families and relationships. Decisions and choices at individual level today has changed from the traditional family ties and thinking to a point where the experiences of the older generation no longer matter. From Australian perspective, young people in the country have high educational achievements and more and easier democratic access (Commonwealth government, 2015). For example, apart from the freedom to marry outside their racial and cultural groups, Australian families support its young children and youth through education and employment (Galinsky, 2001). As well, young Australians enjoy shorter period of youth which explains their financial independence at young age but no adult responsibilities.

Life is seen in a series of phases by many young Australians as they plan for adulthood confidently. The support of the welfare state in Australia centers on family support which is the silent discourse around gender equality (Duncan, 2015). To be a parent, people have to complete education, get into gainful employment and consider private or public housing (Beck, 2002). While majority of the Australians are Christians, clergymen are opposed to the new ‘individualization’ that offers absolute openness and greater freedom that deviates from the true Christian morality. In Australia, sexual relations are an inclination of the moment and a matter of personal feeling. However, little research has been done to understand the position of same-sex marriages in Australia (Galinsky, 2001). Majority disapprove of extra-marital relations with age of spouses being insignificant once marriage is taken into account.

Moreover, the moral code at the moment offers a little allowance for individual variation where psychological needs of persons involved in extra-marital relations are concerned (Smart et al., 2001). Australian families are constituted to last to old age but the social practicality lingers on attitudes surrounding divorce because divorce is commonplace (Commonwealth government, 2015). This is because marriage is regarded as a mundane personal arrangement and not moral or spiritual only design for people’s happiness and comfort. Indeed, the practical reasons for accepting divorce are no longer echoed in the Christian ethic of disapproval and reasoning especially active in Catholicism (Beck, 2002). Yet, parental conflict and divorce harms children to an extent of heighten hatred and indifference (McGoldrick et al., 2015). In other situations, divorce justifies the need to live with one parent instead of being unhappy with the two parents. Legally, divorce is established in strained relationship evidenced by cruelty, insanity, desertion and grounds of adultery.

Young people in developed countries from all strata in society enter higher education compared to earlier times. Although social inequalities still persist, Duncan (2015) observes young women are getting more enlightened and educated as they transit into adulthood. Education is longer for people from middle class backgrounds making transition to waged work much longer. Australia is a welfare state that favors family support especially the rights and privileges of children (Galinsky, 2001). As a result, families feel less constrained or emancipated in their life course phases. According to Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2013), young women as opposed to men perceive adulthood in an abstract, vague and in largely ungendered terms meaning that they orient themselves to a myriad of lifestyle opportunities and their present status as young people. They make assumptions based on unquestioning acceptance resembling their parents’ lives in the old order. The lives of the older generation from the point of view of young people is more ‘predictable’ and ‘boring’ to an extent that they perceive their present as exciting and pleasant.


The essay considers a point of view that late modernity has a relationship with people’s individual freedom of choice. From individualization thesis perspective, young people and adults in the Australian society have greater freedom and democratic values regarding their intimate relationships, family values and longevity of marriage. Matters of collective welfare and social situations in Australia are concerns that have shifted in favor of individual lifestyles largely drawn from market choices and consumerism. The sociology of individualization shows that the set of assumptions plays out in an affluent Australian society and tends to ignore structures that create inequalities. People have the ability to chose spouses, enter into long-term relationships and make distinction between consumption for cultural choice and for basic needs.


Beck, U., (2002), ‘Zombie categories; interview with Ulrich Beck’ in Beck, U. and Beck-

Gernsheim, E. Individualisation, London: Sage

Bauman, Z. (1998). On postmodern uses of sex. Theory, Culture & Society, 15(3): 19-33.

Beck, U. (1992). Risk society towards a new modernity, London: Sage.

Beck, U. (2002). Zombie categories; interview with Ulrich Beck, In Beck, U. and Beck- Gernsheim, E. Individualization, London: Sage.

Beck, U. & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2013). Distant Love: Personal Life in the Global Age
. Polity Press.Cetina, K.K. (1997). Sociality with objects. Social relations in post-social knowledge societies in theory. Culture and society, 14(4)1-30.

Chambers, D. (2012). Individualization, intimacy and family life, Polity Press.

Commonwealth government (2015). Families and cultural diversity in Australia: Australian perspective. Available at:

Duncan, S. (2015). Women’s agency in living apart together: Constraint, strategy and vulnerability. The Sociological Review, 63: 589-607.

Galinsky, E. (2001). Family and work: The family’s perspective. Australian Government: Department of Social Services.

Lewis, J. (2001). The End of Marriage?: Individualism and intimate relations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Smart, C., Neale, B. & Wade A. (2001). The Changing Experience of Childhood: families and divorce .Cambridge: Polity Press.

McGoldrick, M., Nydia, A., Preto, G. & Carter, B.A. (2015). The Expanding Family Life Cycle: Individual, Family, and Social Perspectives. Pearson Education.