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Defining Family: A Case Study Activity
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case studies

How to Cite

Ruehs-Navarro, Emily, and Sarah Friedman. 2021. “Defining Family: A Case Study Activity”. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, September. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.


One of the first tasks in a sociology class on family is to help students to define the concept of the family. Instructors often work to complicate the meaning of family, challenge normative definitions, and assist students in thinking through the importance of this definition. In this activity, students will use case studies to explore these issues.

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Subject Area(s):
Resource Type(s):
Class Level(s):
College 100
Class Size(s):

Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goal(s):

  1. Goal 1: Students will be able to challenge normative definitions of the family.
  2. Goal 2: Identify the various institutions and social groups that define families currently and evaluate how family groups are impacted by these definitions.
  3. Goal 3: Reflect on the importance of defining families and the barriers faced by social groups who do not meet societal definitions of family

Goal Assessment(s):

  1. Assessment 1: Through discussion of case studies, students will identify social groups that consider themselves family, yet do not fall into many definitions..
  2. Assessment 2: Students will create a list of scenarios in which the definition of family is important. They will then identify which institutions have the power to create the definition in each scenario.
  3. Assessment 3: Through small group and class conversations, students will identify how social groups in the case study do or do not have access to resources based on normative definitions of families.

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