60 years on from ‘the problem family’

Last year I wrote three blog posts on The Trouble with ‘troubled families’ (which I’ve re-blogged here, here and here) not knowing that, nearly 60 years ago, a book called ‘The Problem of the Problem Family’ was published, authored by A.F.Philp and Noel Timms. The similarities do not end there however. In the foreword to the book, and using language very much ‘of the time’ Richard Titmuss writes that:

“(it would be true to say) that there is a long, though discontinuous tradition in this country of concern about a segment of families in the population, supposedly characterised by similar traits, and thought to represent a closed, pathological entity – in Lidbetter’s phrase, ‘a race of subnormals’. This ill defined group has come in for a great deal of attention and investigation. Survey has followed survey. Many remedies have been proposed and some pursued. A variety of measures have been put into practice by voluntary and statutory bodies. Yet … the debate about the ‘problem family’ has been conducted in a singularly uncritical manner. Precision in the use of words and in the observation of phenomena has been generally lacking; heterogeneity has been mistaken for homogeneity; biological theories have obscured the study of psychological and sociological factors; the classification and counting of ‘abnormals’ has proceeded regardless of the need to set them in the context of contemporary social norms; in short, what knowledge has been gained from all these inquiries has not accumulated on any theoretical foundations.

There are lots more similarities in the language used and some of the issues identified with the concept of the ‘problem family’ and I’m sure I’ll be returning to this book a lot during the next three years…..