In a few weeks, many students will be waving good-bye to Concordia, degree
in hand. Some will travel; others will go to grad school. But how many
are thinking about starting a family?
[Having children] used to mark a coming of age, said sociology
Assistant Professor Daniel Dagenais. It was normal to become an
adult through the founding of a family.
This all changed in the 1960s. Suddenly, relationships became a meeting
of individuals, not a joining of genders. Marriage ceased to be a fast
track to baby carriages and became a gesture of commitment between two
This didnt produce a transformation of the family, it produced
a collapse, Dagenais said. Its a collapse that he documents
in his book La fin de la famille moderne, now being translated
into English as The Unmaking of the Modern Family.
When the traditional family imploded, it brought down many social structures,
including education. Once, parents were the educators of their children;
now, they are supposed to be their friends. According to Dagenais, the
family has abrogated its pedagogical role, and the state has too.
The leading idea in all education reform is that we should help
students to learn by themselves, he said. Rather than embody
knowledge, we are asked to become tools, [but] in order to become a tool
for training students, you need to reduce knowledge to technique and you
lose its beauty.
Dagenais is almost Platonic in his passion for knowledge. He once toyed
with the idea of becoming a mathematics professor because he so admired
the elegance of mathematical proofs. He went into sociology, instead,
but continues to research in the old-fashioned manner. He does not conduct
field work, play with numbers or do any type of empirical research; instead,
he reads and thinks and theorizes.
Every aspect of his research revolves around the crisis of modern Western
society. Currently, Dagenais is studying suicide rates. He says that the
rates are alarmingly high in nations like Quebec that developed under
foreign capitalists. In such places, a mans two-pronged source of
identity career success and his provider role are skewed
because moving up the ladder was a form of social treason that meant integrating
into the ruling class.
The French-Canadian fathers thought of themselves as nothing but
providers and were therefore vulnerable to any changes to that role.
With their wives now in the work force and birthrates in decline, Quebec
men can no longer define themselves in a traditional manner. The suicide
rate has soared.
Dagenais attributes this and most other societal problems to the modern
fantasy of an individual-based society. A group of individuals
is not a society, Dagenais explained, yet the individual is increasingly
emphasized. Same-sex adoption is such an example. It represents the extreme
individualization of parenting in that it gives us an individual
right to have children.
The nature of love has changed, too. Once a way to legitimize founding
a family, now, love has become a medium through which you build
yourself. Its more narcissistic.
How does someone who has spent years dissecting the modern family raise
As a sociologist, I have clear ideas, but as a father Im a
normal man, Dagenais admitted. However, if it was possible
to raise them anew, Id tell them to have fun, but warn them that
at one point their youth has to stop. You cant be 18 years old in
your mind when youre 45.
Theres a sobering thought for this years graduates.