During the 1990s, the sociology of the family was vitalised by new and groundbreaking theories of modernity, identity, and the family. At this time the family was put forward as an example of how modern institutions and identities were transforming and changing. Concepts such as individualisation, choice biographies, and reflexivity brought new perspectives to family research. Parallel to this Raewyn Connell’s book Masculinities raised important questions about men’s lives and generated a renewed interest in theories of masculinities. Overall, these parallel theoretical tracks also brought new life to issues on fatherhood. Specifically, a collaborative approach gradually developed between critical studies on men and masculinities and research on fatherhood and fathering. Following a development from functionalist to contemporary theories on fatherhood, possibilities to theorise and redefine fatherhood will be explored. Using a multidimensional theoretical approach to fatherhood will facilitate making connections between the phenomenological (the body, subjectivity), and the sociocultural (welfare regimes, hegemonic structures) aspects of fatherhood. The article also argues that we might have to develop a new theoretical language that does not define acts, performativity and attitudes in terms of fathering/mothering.
This article presents analyses from an international empirical study of young fatherhood in Sweden and the UK to interrogate how welfare contexts and family policies shape young fathers’ views of parenthood. Our analyses demonstrate that despite differences in constructions of young fatherhood, whereby young parenthood is problematised in UK family policy, more so than in Sweden, young fathers in both countries express an encouraging commitment to contemporary cultural imperatives for engaged fatherhood. However, differences in welfare and parental leave systems have a clear influence on the extent to which the young men in the respective countries fulfil their parental commitments and act as local agents of change in the wider social project of gender equality. We argue that while policy processes and discourses in support of young parenthood and gender equality are currently treated as disparate concerns, their articulations with one another may instead be seen as complementary and symbiotic.