Nairobi, Kenya. (Credit: Nick Fox/Bigstock)
Nairobi, Kenya. (Credit: Nick Fox/Bigstock) (via:

Both standard and specialised dictionaries, such as The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, define the family as “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children”. From an anthropological point of view, the family is a group of people who are related to each other. This sense of family can refer to a group that consists of parents and their children, or it can refer to a bigger group of related people including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., who share common ancestry. Family is therefore a set of “people related by blood or by marriage” (University of Singapore 2012). As these biological links then widen to include cultural, or conventional links, family then become metaphorical. However, in the genetic order, as in the sociocultural or metaphorical one, family is an indisputable, essential, human value.

Nearly seventy years ago, Oscar Lewis drew attention to the complexity of family studies, saying we move “between the conceptual extremes of the individual at one pole and the culture at the other” (1950). That complexity deepens when one relates ‘Family’ to ‘Development’, another complex and controversial concept.

From a methodological point of view, this expert comment can simply not be a case study with reference to any local or any regional specificities. Neither can it be an ethnologic or an ethnographic survey on Africa. The two concepts – family and development – tend towards a grasp of global trends in order to view as best as possible, the global landscape for an eventual dialogue of civilisations.

What is it all about?

After evaluating the anthropological dimension of family, this paper argues that the primordial values of humankind were positive and inclusive, as they were inspired by women who give life and whose managing system is matriarchy.

In The Chalice and the Blade (2014), Riane Eisler explained the long process of how men have undermined women. Evidence of art and funeral ceremonies in the early Neolithic period demonstrates how men and women were equal at that time. The industrialisation of the world and the advent of capitalism boosted the process of the undermining of women, as the warrior spirit of the past, which had been exhibited in the conquering of territories and the domination of other people groups, degenerated in military world wars and transformed into economic wealth wars. The blade progressively but inexorably toppled the chalice; the warrior toppled the mother, and patriarchy toppled matriarchy through male domination and the spirit of misappropriation and ownership. That process has severely impacted the status of family, limiting it to its nuclear minimum, probably for economic survival reasons. The market became the new field of war, as shown by Olivia Harris’s inspiring analysis on marriage and the market in market societies, which shows how women have been internationally subordinated (1984).

It is in that social context that exclusion gradually and insidiously replaced inclusion and sharing. Through material and economic constraints, the family fissured and became simply a tool for economic benefit, presumably for the sake of ‘development’ – though the latter term is yet to be clearly defined. The priority of egocentrism and hunting for wealth is overtaking the humanness of humankind. The world global economic family doesn’t seem able to properly replace the human family, as the latter is nuclearised by selfishness. The family is in severe jeopardy, as even the nuclear family is splitting for the sake of individual and private libido, the social consequence of which is a childless sexual enjoyment.

‘Development’ is at stake, but the concept is still to be defined, debated, and agreed upon. It is not wealth that humankind has to promote and develop; humankind has to develop humanness. Nobody ever witnessed male goats or female goats dating one another. In that specific area, humankind is likely to act in ways that prove destructive to the family as a social institution. Some social evolutions through legal processes lead to social degradation; the usual, well-known heterosexual family therefore happens to remain the primordial and the core principle of any worthy social and human development in the world.

World development is therefore closely based on the development of humanness in humankind. The world is in need of human accounts, not of bank accounts. As the family is in the world, so goes world development.

  1. The Family as an Anthropological Complex Value

In most cultures and civilisations in the world, the word ‘family’ spontaneously relates to a human reality experienced in a given society as a genuine part of that society. It is represented by either all descendants of a common ancestor or by a couple consisting of two parents of the opposite sex who have had children and who share their life in a ‘household’.

The latter configuration of ’family’ is a western one, as recent as it is ambiguous and capitalist. Christopher Harris has brought to light the ambiguity of, and the confusion regarding, ‘family’. Capitalism and the industrialisation of society triggered the nuclearisation of the family through social legislation, mainly in western societies. Accordingly, only close members of a family could live together as a household, excluding any other distant relatives (Harris 1983). That status is said to be ‘modern’ since it departs from the primordial status of the matrifocal family’s prevalence at the origin of any society, whether animal or human. The matrifocal family is defined as a mother and her children, i.e., her own offspring, without any man or male claiming fatherhood.

Research on ‘animal societies’ has helped to better understand their structure and functioning, as well as the behavior of some animals: the results of some ethnologists (such as Konrad Lorenz) and primatologists (such as Williams Chance) were so instructive that they significantly enlightened our understanding of humankind.

This original existential knowledge constitutes the cultural foundation of many civilisations in the world. It feeds its structuring as a mode of organisation and its management as a mode of functioning on a daily basis. This consideration is worth keeping in mind: not only does it reveal that human societies have a lot to share with some animal societies, it shows that in the name of modernism and societal progress, human society has arrogated to itself the right to distort the core principles of (animal and human) societies.

This distortion of primordial principles of life generated cracks, clashes, and violence. These shortcomings can still be observed nowadays when they sometimes transform into real and irreversible social fractures.

To our understanding, herein lies the immanent cultural stake civilisations should resolutely consider for an inclusive management of development issues for people, both within a given society and (especially) among or between different societies.

The contentious issue will then be to agree on what a family is.

Whether we are dealing with an animal or a human society, one can easily see that some births occurred here and there with no requirement for a structure like some of those that have existed since modern society organised itself. I mean that before becoming a father, any genitor is realistically just a mere male. The father function or role is therefore not linked to the capacity to provide seeds to a female (in the case of animals) or a woman (in the case of humans). Genetic paternity is not synonymous with a genitor automatically taking responsibility in assuming his social and moral obligations. The status of father, according to the definition modern society gives, is nothing but a strictly conventional innovation.

To be a father or ‘head of the family’, you must deserve it in any society, since only society confers that social recognition. Only society grants that award to a genitor who secures and guarantees the continuity of that very society through the long-term viability of a family. Therefore, being a genitor is not enough to be a father: an individual still has to impose upon himself the constraints and responsibilities required by society.

That is why, in animal societies as in human societies, it sometimes happens that some genitrix are forced to defend and protect their vulnerable progeny from their wild and brutal genitors.

The difference between primordial and modern families lies in the following: the primordial family is natural and spontaneous, instinctive and even genetic; it runs from the mother only, with no need for any external recognition. The modern family completely demotes the mother and artificially promotes the father by overstating his male power. That social validation is nothing but a mere convention, which becomes its main (if not its only) justification.

On the ethical playing field, the primordial family appears to be more human because it is more naturally moral than the modern family established by social conventions.

In the anthropological or primordial point of view, it would sound funny that outside of these social conventions, there have never been groups of humans or animals that could be acknowledged as ‘families’. One may therefore easily admit that ‘families’ did and do exist outside of those conventions modern societies agreed on for their own security and survival.

Once raised, this issue leads to a necessary choice between two distinct options:

  • a natural social order based on the matrician principle of inclusion the primordial family provides;
  • a conventional social order built on the patrician principle, which is entitled to produce exclusion through the nuclear family.

If we move from the first option to the second, ‘the family’ is no longer considered as the truth to be acknowledged, but rather as a complex social and human reality – a combination of anthropological, sociological, and economic values and considerations.

This anthropological split has deep social consequences, the most violent of which is social constriction, the reduction of a species to an exclusive core represented by the ‘nuclear family’.

  1. The ‘Nuclear Family’ and Human Development

Is the nuclear family a negation of human development? In Africa, the notion of ‘nuclear family’ is denied any cultural and social relevance. It is openly rejected as incompatible with the African sociocultural system. “The so-called nuclear family has no sociological relevance in African tradition. It is generally unnamed. It is denied as it relates to a conception which radically clashes with the one that prevails in Africa, i.e., the preeminence to acknowledge any of the social or biological links which define family as a fact.” (Bekombo 1988, 47-48). Nuclearity cuts the family links and isolates relatives, while in Africa, cultures and traditional social systems generally weave and tighten the links to bridge eventual gaps between relatives. Nuclearity therefore is a non-African way of life, an exogenous sociocultural concept which directly relates to the economic pinch, specifically in industrialised countries. It should however be mentioned that in some African ’developing’ countries, the countdown towards nuclearisation has started as a frightful process: “Industrialization and specially urbanization are considered as the most efficient factors in the destruction process of African family” (Ibid, 58).

What we wish to refer to as the ‘nuclearisation’ of the family has concrete and harsh economic roots and implications, regardless of the causes or the consequences. It is all about the indirect implications and not about any direct link with economics. ‘Nuclearity’ is then a concept to scrutinise.

In a single-parent family, a woman or a man has to strive alone to bring up a child. This may happen when one biological parent runs away from his or her social and moral duties, or when one of them has no other choice but to face that awkward situation. Whatever the case, that specific situation is a social and human concern. This abnormal social exception is becoming a usual one. In that specific case then, matriarchy is still the basis: it is the mother who gave life in a single-parent family who spontaneously acts as a mother. It is matriarchy which prevails. A man who finds himself in a single-parent family has to reeducate and actually recycle for motherhood to meet his social challenges. Fatherhood must then give room, or even give way to motherhood, as patriarchy is bound to trek back to the matriarchy spirit, mood, and vision.

Nuclearity is neither a matter of patrician or matrician status in a given family, nor a matter of a demographic dimension. A family of ten can prove as nuclear as a family of two. It depends on its vision. To spell it out, nuclearity is not a figure but a way of life and a philosophy. It is fundamentally related to openness or exclusion, to the acceptance or the rejection of others. You build a nuclear family as soon as you egoistically lock yourself to your strictly genetic relatives while excluding any other persons from that core, hermetic unit.

Nuclearity, then, is not statistic but a vision to be questioned as a trigger for, or an obstacle to, development. As mentioned in the introductory remarks above, it is another issue to clearly identify and agree on the type of development the world needs.

Indeed, the family only appears indirectly or implicitly as an economic indicator and parameter. The necessity for any family to survive economically is the only constraint that drove the need to set ‘the family’ at the centre of the economy. By developing itself, the family contributes to the development of the whole society, be it considered as the core or as a segment of that society.

The prosperity of that segment or that social core is therefore a reliable indicator for the prosperity of the whole society. The ‘household’ is a major component or variable in most modern economic theories. Gary Becker spelled this out in A Treatise on the Family (1981). As a result, the slightest structural or functional disruption within the family has a significant impact on the global development of any society.

Our hypothesis is the following: The state of development of people and societies in the world is dependent on the state of the family in cultures and civilisations. This hypothesis could be reformulated as follows: Tell me which family you build up or belong to, and I will tell you which kind of development you have.

If we were to assess the state of ‘the family’ in some cultures around the world, we would unavoidably have to learn from the history of civilisations.

We would then point out that:

  • The world broke the primordial family spring that guaranteed inclusive development in societies, regardless of the civilisation. (Eisler 1987).
  • The disintegration of the family is noticeable through the insidious replacement of matriarchy by patriarchy, the consequence of which is the replacement of the spirit of togetherness by the selfishness that splits families in the pinch of scarcity.
  • This cleavage widened and spread in mechanisms of socio-economic development in the modern world, enhancing these discrepancies.
  • The outcome of this process is a progressive fragmentation of the family which, in turn, generates social atomisation. The direct threat of this implosion of the family is the explosion of global society. That threat is all about the tearing and disruption of humankind as a whole. That general disaster is hatching underground. The social and political upheavals the world experiences provide evidence of the negative effects of the fragmentation of the family as a social institution.
  • For the world to overcome this plight and survive on the basis of an ethical awakening, the DOC Research Institute tries to bring together different parts of the human family as humankind is threatened by conflagration. For the sake of human solidarity, the DOC Research Institute aims at reconstructing a world-cultural and civilisational confederation.
  • Moving forward with a moving world might not make it possible to return to ancient and primordial values (Dertouzos 1998). However, a commitment to education based on these founding values would legitimately contribute to reshaping humans and minds for the advent of a different (if not new) family order in the world.
  1. The Primordial Family Values for an Inclusive Civilization

Several disciplines of the human sciences and many authors have converged and established that ‘the nuclear family’, promoted in industrialised countries, has nothing in common with ‘the primordial family’.

Anthropology and philosophy have produced major reference works on the origin of the family:  Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) and Lewis Morgan (1818 – 1881), his inspirer, may be mentioned. The shift from matriarchy to patriarchy is considered as a civilisational decline. Engels (1884) does not hesitate to report the oppression of women as evidence of human decline, as they are confined in domestic servitude and in the role of baby producers. In his opinion, the violent domestic inequality imposed on women is a warning signal of inequality and social injustice on the larger scale of global society. Engels therefore identifies the marginalisation and underestimation of woman as one of the ills of the patriarchal mode of production, as that mode is entitled to produce poor people who produce wealth for the rich, and consequently excludes poor people from the benefit of their labour. Pushed to its full measure, this patriarchal mode of production quickly converted into the employers’ mode of production, which is likely to impoverish the poor in order to better enrich the rich. Social survival indices in any community across the world show that no society is absolutely or definitively spared from such a calamity.

More recently, Riane Eisler (cf. op. cit.) spelled it out as the chalice, symbolising the matriarchal and egalitarian organisation of society, toppled by the dominator model, which is symbolised by the blade. The worth of any human being is to give and protect life. Women are champions in this valuable duty. Blades deprive human beings of their life, as warriors use blades to kill for domination. Calling to life or expelling from life are the two main trends. The nuclear family falls in the second, as it is entitled to produce exclusions. As mentioned before, it is not only a matter of statistics; the philosophy of the blade inspires the nuclearisation of the family and exclusion in society.

The nuclear family, which is the social consequence of the economic pinch, is likely to expand due to the instinct of self-preservation, justified by uncertainty and fear for the future. It therefore acts by exclusion. Its constriction, its reluctance to engage in solidarity or any kind of distribution, concentrates everything on the self. That option grows and becomes the confiscation of initiatives; some people make use of such a confiscation to prove their absolute power and domination: in a given family, patriarchy then establishes the preponderance and prominence of the ‘father’ as the realisation of this atomisation. In the philosophy of the blade, as Riane Eisler described it, nuclearity is no longer demographic. It doesn’t merely count the father, the mother, and their children; it extends to the verticality of relations as the rule between different members of the family. Exclusion, limitation, and domination are the key principles, precisely as the dominating ‘father’ is presumably the only unquestionable referent for the whole family.

The primordial family, on the contrary, identifies as a matriarchal structure. It does not lack men, but it is the woman in general, and especially the mother, who are the discrete and even secret referents. The anthropological literature of the world is rich in presenting these discrete women as the living testimony, if not the incarnation of this reality. In most mythologies of the world, the gods put in action are most often influenced by the goddesses; these goddesses are so present and so active that their roles and influence become preponderant. Many gods end up yielding, not only to the charms of the goddesses, but to their power, which they most often keep and exercise without any sharing or weakness. For Riane Eisler, things went wrong as soon as the power the goddesses enjoyed to give and protect life was overtaken by the power heroes usurped to take life. Though Riane Eisler didn’t use the terms ‘patriarchy’ or ‘matriarchy’, the scheme she drew shaped a social map, the reading of which strongly recommends that we bring the two wings together for a beneficial social partnership.

Some case studies on African societies and cultures give a significant hint of that expectation applying globally for the whole humankind.

In 1985, Bujumbura (Burundi) and Dakar (Senegal) hosted an important UNESCO workshop on ‘Principles, Methods and Strategies of Development’, focused on the role of the family in the development process, in the context of African environmental and sociocultural diversity. The participants had to state clearly which family would fit to which kind of development, or vice versa, since Africa stands under the burden of her history and yet is also itching to catch up with ‘modernity’. It was clearly demonstrated that African women are the cornerstone of the African family, and that any negative action against women would be counterproductive and a social development disaster.

In 1988 a UNESCO team of African researchers published an important survey: The Family, the Child and the Development in Africa (UNESCO 1988). To limit ourselves to the first part of that collective research, Francois Itoua analysed ‘The African Family and Its Contribution to Development’, while Dosseh A. Tettekpoe studied the ‘Traditional Family in Togo Facing an Endogenous Human-Centered Development’. Aminata Traoré based her analysis on norms and behaviours in ‘The Evolution Aspects of the Family in Ivory Coast’. Manga Bekombo made a prospective analysis on the family and development in Africa.

The outcome of these studies shows how contradictory development can be, both in the world in general, and specifically in Africa. One might have thought that, once triggered by Africans themselves, development would be effectively human-centred. The story is quite different: due to the burden of colonialism, development in Africa is perceived as an economic issue. Yet Africans are not in control of that economic development process: whereas Africa needs social development, the continent is pushed instead into a monetary and economic process. “Nowadays, the worth of a nation is evaluated on its economic and financial assets not on the humanness of its people” (Bekombo, 1988, 44).

Due to the burden of colonialism, Africa unfortunately no longer develops on its own. Many African countries still identify themselves as ‘underdeveloped’ countries to be developed by non-Africans. What they get under the label of ‘development’ is therefore mainly – if not totally – inspired by exogenous criteria. Instead of the inclusive process of sharing that generally prevails in a matriarchal system, Africa is hooked on a patriarchal system, and its prevailing social paradigm is domination through social Darwinism and exclusion.

In some sociocultural systems, such as in Western Cameroon, efforts are made to help matriarchy catch up, to eventually reverse the patriarchal trends: women organise and struggle to reconquer the power that men took from them. Some women use special rites, and some, traditional powers, to teach men lessons.

Such is the case with the Anlu and the Takumbeng in Western Cameroon. Anthropologists Paul Nkwi and Francis Kwain highlighted the traditional Anlu process for women to show their strength and social power over men. The following summary of their valuable analysis is available online:

Oral traditions claim that anlu was created when, during war, all the males were slaughtered. The story records that the Kom people were a tributary to a chief in Mejang and their tribute was to build a house in the Mejang city every year. Eventually, the Kom refused and Mejang dispatched an army to put down the rebellion.. The Mejang forces decided to attack while the men were hunting and capture all the women. The women heard about this and so dressed in male clothing and went with crude weapons to meet the Mejang. The men fled from what they thought were the troops of Kom and only one was captured. The women stripped off their clothing to reveal that the Mejang forces had been defeated by women and Mejang became a Kom tributary after that point.

Traditional anlu involves groups of women organizing and shaming individuals who violate certain moral rules. The ostracizing could develop as a result of any set of offenses that violated community morality and were believed to threaten the life of the community (by damaging fertility, food, or prosperity). These offenses could include insulting one’s mother, physically abusing a pregnant or nursing woman, committing incest, or other offenses. The women would respond with actions considered outside of the community’s moral order (vulgar speech, display of genitals, dress in men’s clothing, defecation on the offender’s property, etc.) in order to highlight the egregiousness of the offense and pressure for repayment. The women themselves are organized under the leadership of the oldest woman of the community, named the na-anlu.

Other men of the community would not intervene or interfere in the anlu, and could become a target of anlu if they did interfere, and husbands of women involved would take over household tasks. Anthropologist Paul Nkwi makes clear that while men typically retain power in traditional Kom communities, during anlu ‘the men are virtually powerless and the traditional chiefs and councils are weakened’.

Indeed, many conclusions of impatient or absent-minded ethnologists are but a complete mistake on the social status of the woman in Africa: as they did not see any woman haranguing crowds publicly or making spectacular decisions, some ethnologists hastily concluded that the African woman was oppressed (Nkwi, 1985).

Sociologist Cosme Dikoume, deeply rooted in African culture, summed up the status of the African woman with a proverbial expression: ‘In Africa, the woman in society is the salt in the sauce: you don’t see it, yet it provides the sauce all its taste’. This is true of women in general. As for the mother, her status is so preponderant that in African culture, it is only when you lose your mother that you are said to have become an orphan. This reality happens to be a transcultural perception, so frequent and even usual in cultures and civilisations of the world that it represents a cultural universal: nobody ever doubts his or her mother, because nobody makes a mistake about his or her mother. Things happen to be quite different with fatherhood:  it is frequently questioned, and it is open to the father to prove his fatherhood.

What some people might have considered as just an ‘African argument’ happens to be worthy and relevant beyond Africa. This may confirm that it is the violence imposed on women that made cultures and civilisations shift down from matriarchy to patriarchy.

It is frightful for anyone to notice that the world has been de-cultured, and that by skinning the women of their primordial prerogatives, mankind – so to speak – fell into de-civilisation. From this point of view, the famous title of the learned African scholar Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilization or Barbarism (1991), claims back all of its painful resonance.

Unlike the nuclear family, the original family was neither numerically restrained nor vertical in its functioning: it was experienced as horizontal, far from this crushing hierarchy that makes any father the master (dominus) by making any mother a maidservant, if not a slave.

The quarrel of the matricians and the patricians is not therefore simply a domestic squabble: the family cleavage which that quarrel reveals stretches to the scale of global society through its numerous consequences, among which we record economic setbacks. As for development, this domestic cleavage drew a dichotomous scheme which framed the global functioning of modern society. The break in domestic solidarity that scheme reveals is premonitory of the various social fractures that recent centuries deplore, both inside certain nations as well as between different nations of the world. The patriarchal subversion of the primordial family therefore perpetrated a patriarchal mode of production which, in turn but on a different scale, generated the capitalist or profit-hunting mode of production, which doesn’t seem to honour the human family.

It is certainly not a matter of comparing incompatible registers or merging disproportional scales of evaluation. Nevertheless, our effort at analogy is far from being excessive, as it may happen to be the candle that can somewhat enlighten the frightening relations that prevail between the human family and the business family in the world. On the pretext of civilisation, the primordial family has been dismantled as barbaric, to the benefit of the patriarchal family. The latter has given preeminence to the spirit of self-development in a profit-hunting economic system. That move has de-civilised human society by dehumanising social relations for the sake of wealth production and economic prosperity.

One of the most valuable illustrations of this concern comes from Gary Becker, whose inspiring book, economically speaking, shows how a social and human institution – the family – can be analysed, if not literally used as an economic tool, as no more than a device for producing wealth and making profit. Some keen analysts have already pointed out Becker’s ‘outrageous assumptions’. Arthur Stinchcombe of the University of Arizona comments on Gary Becker’s assumption that ‘the better endowed a child is to make money as an adult …in general, what parents are assumed to want out of a child is the child’s adult income’ (1983).

In his enlightening study on Gary Becker, Robert A. Pollak (2002) reminds us that Becker’s treatise happens to be controversial: on the one hand, it is hailed as “the most important book on the family to appear in many years” (Michael T. Hannan’s endorsement; Becker 1981). On the other hand, social scientists – and even some economists – show hostility towards its “outrageous assumptions”. That controversy is not simply a theoretical quarrel; it has a practical and even a pragmatic impact on the social body called ‘the family’, the prevailing values of which are not economical. Gary Becker himself hinted at that uneasiness: “The economic approach … assumes that individuals maximise their utility from basic preferences that do not change rapidly over time, and that the behavior of different individuals is coordinated by explicit and implicit markets” (1981, ix, italics added).

In his sociological review of Gary Becker’s book, Michael T. Hannan states that Becker’s “economic conception of action cuts through the romantic mist that so often blinds social scientists to the hard choices faced by families and their members” (1982). The core issue is therefore that utilitarianism which leads to the marketisation of the family. The de-civilisation and de-humanisation we mentioned above are triggered by the erosion of the romantic and sentimental dimensions, which are indispensable and unavoidably necessary in any genuine and far-reaching family relation.

For Pollak (2002), “Although we may reject many of Becker’s answers and refashion many of his tools, his answers and his tools provide the starting point for economists who work on the family”. This is my point: many tools are needed and used to ‘work on the family’. That may even lead to working for the family. But any marketisation of the family undermines the family as a tool to be used for something that may be worth working on, but might no longer be a family, as it becomes a factory, a company, or a business asset.

Profit- and benefit-hunting are neither obviously beneficial nor automatically profitable to the family. The sentimental and romantic dimension of human relations – a must in any family – must be secured: any instrumentalisation of the family makes economists reduce human beings to human ‘capital’ or human ‘resources’. As a reminder, and as food for thought, The Human Capital happens to be the title of a book Gary S. Becker published in 1975.

Now that ‘civilisation’ has lost its human generosity, it might be necessary to use the ‘barbarism’ our artificial and antihuman ‘civilisation’ thought it could undermine. The more we descend the ladder of humanism, the more ‘barbarism’ bangs at our door, asking us to bring back primordial human values to restore in humanity that very humanness we are tragically losing.

From this point of view, it is instructive that in his study on the origin of the family, Friedrich Engels links the family, property, and the state: the fragmentation of the primordial family occurred in the name of economic capital. This was symptomatic of the conflicts nations experience in the name of the same economic capital and growth.

What we may admit as the revenge of primordial barbarism appears in the progressive, collective, and probably irreversible rejection of a civilisation of breakage and exclusion, to the advantage of values of interaction and inclusion. The nature or status of what is known as ‘development’ should therefore be identified as clearly as possible.

  1. Which Development for People in the World?

Talk of development is predominant globally.  All agencies, organisations, and assemblies in the world proclaim their commitment to ‘development’. The issue, however, is to determine and agree on what to develop in the world. The world is divided and split into two hemispheres: in one there are catch up nations mildly labelled ‘developing’ countries; in the other there are industrialised or developed countries. Each of the latter endeavors or manage to have a say as far as developing ‘the underdeveloped’ is concerned. This cleavage between developers and countries to be developed does not guarantee a consensual understanding of development. As dramatist Eugene Ionesco reminds us in The Lesson, our world is a victim of the tragedy of incomprehension: when two citizens of two different nations talk of the ‘fatherland’, the word is the same, but each of them is referring to a completely different reality: the Japanese is talking of her Japan, the Romanian is talking of his Romania.

This tragedy of incomprehension aggravates the tragedy of non-communication in the world. Even the linguists who tried to shed some light on this issue only produced controversial opinions. For Austin, talking is acting. For Bernstein, the desolation of the tragedy of non-communication is complete: people no longer pay any attention to what people do, or to what people are, or to what people say. They content themselves with what people say they do, with what people say they are, and with what people say they say. More dramatic still: even when the same words or the same concepts are used in the same language, we still have to translate.

These linguistic considerations help measure the paradox of development in the world: on the one hand, the family nuclearises; this nuclearisation has more or less clumsily camouflaged protectionisms as socio-economic impact. On the other hand, the dominant talking points require the building of large economic groups in the name of globalisation. The striking paradox of ‘development’ appears in the reduction of human families to self-centered and exclusive cores, facing the promotion of big economic families. Demographic Malthusianism nuclearised the ‘human family’, but it is problematized by the paradoxical widening of the ‘economic family’.

This paradox enhances an epic fracture: that of humanism versus economism. Most of the time it is humanism which is grounded, as economism arrogantly drives into the monetisation of social relations, where human beings are deprived of their human status and hooked into the status of human resources and human capital.

Any development based on that capitalist mode of production tramples the human person in general, in the same way that the patriarchal mode of family management trampled the value of the woman. The worship of profit splits society into producers and consumers, into sellers and buyers. That line drawn by market culture ignites this fracture, to the detriment of what any human person enjoys as humanity.

It is difficult to carve out a clear-cut solution that efficiently alleviates the paradox of development. However, a call to resist total decline comes from the United Nations Program for Development; the program officially works beyond the market and commercial schemes, devoting itself to the achievement of what it officially calls ‘human development’.

Now that our civilisation of fractures is rebuilding walls across the world against migratory waves, (in Central Europe, the United States, Palestine, Calais, and more), humanism is the value and the wealth we need to develop. Building up a civilisation of bridges and footbridges might enable us to overtake the dominant civilisation of gaps and walls. One may therefore take into consideration the meaningful fact that ‘human development’ as an objective symbolically comes from a body called the ‘United Nations’.

It is instructive that the DOC Research Institute is taking on this task: the so-called cultures or civilisations of the rational urgently need to be enriched, if not replaced by cultures and civilisations of the relational. Changing the ongoing, dominant civilisational paradigm becomes an emergency: a pedagogy of opening is a must, for the ethic of the monad (Leibniz) is progressively caught up by the ethic of openness (Henry Bergson). Abandoning closed or closing societies to the advantage of open or opening societies is the true challenge of the third millennium. That challenge should be tackled and met by any civilisation or culture in search of human development, for the development of viable human societies.

It is probably due to this universal emergency that even the monetary economy is taking big steps away from harsh and brutal commercialism towards the economy of solidarity, as the World Social Forum is blowing the warning whistle.

The primordial family will probably never be restored to satisfaction; however, the revaluation of the human person for the sake of human development might allow us to restore some of the key primordial values of humanity.

The need to undertake that existential archaeology might not be obvious to all of us, but that step is necessary for those who dream of limiting the fragmentation of the family. It becomes inevitable for whoever wants to ensure that human beings do not become single numbers, rolls, and or barcodes. We have learned from history that when human beings are taken for granted and become just capital or ‘resources’, they are dehumanised and numbered: the human family still has in living memory some human tragedies of this kind.

Apparently, development no longer occurs to the advantage of human beings; more and more, frightening economic statistics and financial indicators show that the world moves forward with the human as instrument, not for the human as the goal or end. One of the most worrying indicators is the objective threat which looms over the family as an institution: we saw the many consequences of the internal dysfunction of the classical family when it moved away from its primordial status. This organisational asymmetry and deficit of equity exposed it to triumphant commercialism. Nowadays, what seems to be insidiously planned is the extinction of the family.

The rage for the homogenisation of cultural, social, and human relations no longer seems to accept any limits: the negation of differences crystallises in their rubbing-out. This quasi-universal conspiracy of homogeneity impacts the family through its human barrenness and its physiological sterility. The demographic desert which constitutes its fatal consequence gives no opportunity for the perpetuation of the human family.

Something will be developed, but one may wonder whether it will still be a human society. The progress of genetics helps produce human beings that homogeneous families will be able to raise. These products will instinctively be trained for the culture of homogeneity, where it is no longer the differences or the opposites that meet. Contrary to a well-known principle in physics, according to which two bodies of the same nature repel each other, the identical will prevail in a touchy demographic unproductiveness to de-populate the world.

In such a ‘family’ context, human products bought from specialised laboratories will be bred, willy-nilly. Nothing guarantees that these human products, which could be used as human material, will still be educated in the culture of differences and of procreative complementarity.

New social structuring is likely to come out of these changes in attitudes and evolution of appetites. On may still refer to it as ‘family’, but it will be a simple metaphor. In a heterogeneous family, children are traditionally subject to the education of their parents; in a homogeneous family, it will be the same process. One may therefore fear that we are facing husbandry rather than genuine education. Parenthood is then likely to be supplanted and overtaken by sponsorship. With regard to strictly ‘human’ development, it is clear that freedom to enjoy or express oneself evolves. Only society is threatened with a double ethical and demographic decline: on the one hand, the instrumentalisation of the human person, and on the other, social sterilisation.

  1. African Family and Development: A Civilizational Case

Whatever the perspective, development as a social issue raises the question of the organisation of society with ‘the family’ as a base. The shift from the primordial family to the ‘modern’ family produced a victim: the woman. Violence perpetrated against women as part of this deterioration drove human society into the economic field and produced new victims: the poor and the vulnerable, regardless of sex differences. The nuclearisation of the family produced an omnipotent father; yet at the same time, paradoxically, large economic ‘families’ came to life. This created new social splits and new victims known as ‘proletarians’. As if this was not enough, all of a sudden the family is severely weakened by intimate private options which that very society previously kept in hiding. Public demonstrations and activism related to these new social and individual demands reveal new social fissures that might be fatal to the family as an institution. To point this out does not necessarily entail the denial of people’s right to choose their personal and intimate way of life. However, it hints at how safeguarding society through a social family life may clash with private and intimate enjoyment, though both are human situations we should equitably protect for the perpetuation of humankind.

On that specific issue, it should be clearly remembered that cultures and civilisations are the basis of social life. Not every cultural or social behavior of a given human society can be transferred to, or is welcome in, other social areas. Referring to the family, some cultures and civilisations do not tolerate polygamy, which other cultures and civilisations hail and promote. Some cultures practice polyandry, while others blame and ban that practice.  On the other hand, some cultures and civilisations welcome homosexuality, while others do not tolerate that practice. For the sake of the child, reproduction, and for the continuity of the family, many if not all African cultures seem hostile to homosexuality for its childlessness.

The following is shared when it comes to know what some people mean by ‘family’: “It is interesting to note that based on information obtained via a survey, a family which includes children is more of a ‘family’ as compared with one without children. Thirty-three percent said a gay male couple was a family. Sixty-four percent said they became a family when they added children” (

It is reported that recently in Zimbabwe, two young men received a jail sentence in the same cell due to their sexual orientation. Knowing Robert Mugabe’s position on homosexuality, their lawyers and relatives tentatively sent a request for their release to the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. It is said that whilst at a rally, Robert Mugabe made one of his buzzing declarations, promising to set the two gay men free as soon as one of them became pregnant. Robert Mugabe is outspoken on this specific issue.  One could remember that he took issue with Barack Obama, as the son of an African father, for having promoted same sex marriage. Mugabe even declared he would go to Washington DC and knee down before Obama to ask for his hand (“Mugabe’s most controversial quotes”, 2015).

Whatever the particular controversy, Robert Mugabe maintains the line of his address as Chairman of the African Union to the United Nations General Assembly on 28 September 2015: “We equally reject attempts to prescribe new rights that are contrary to our norms, values, traditions and beliefs. We are not gays” (“Robert Mugabe tells UN General Assembly”, 2015). Such a stand may frustrate or clash with other cultures and civilisations as a denial of rights. Yet it is significant as long as the stake is perpetuating and safeguarding the family as a key social institution. To Robert Mugabe, speaking on behalf of Africa, it seems that ‘’this thing seeks to destroy our lineage by saying John and John should wed, Maria and Maria should wed’’ (R. Mugabe, Zimbabwean’s Most controversial quotes…op. cit). It is all about protecting the human global family for world development, rather than fighting against any personal, intimate, and private inclination. If the world development agenda was the right one, then world development would unavoidably start with the development of the human family.

Giving birth is a guarantee of the survival of that family. Apart from this, no other social structure is credible or viable, especially in parts of Africa where even a heterosexual family which cannot give birth is pitied as a social curse. Many childless African families perceives themselves this way as well. The curse becomes a deep social abomination when two people of same sex pretend to build up a ‘family’.  For the majority of Africans, promoting the family as an institution implies getting rid of any childless social or sexual practice, whatever the ‘legality’ or the legalisation of sexual orientations. The stand Robert Mugabe made at the United Nations General Assembly on 28 September 2015 gives a hint of that general cultural reluctance and civilisational hostility to any option which is likely to put the perpetuation of the human family in jeopardy. This point is neither a regional nor a native one. It is a cultural and a civilizational case in view of an eventual dialogue of civilisations.

If ‘development’ relates to the status of the family as a social structure, it should then be admitted that development is a human claim, not an economic or business undertaking.  As the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) affirms, there is no viable development either apart from, or against, men and women. Developing humankind through the family should be the goal, the achievement of which relies on economic activities that are not the aim, but rather the means. Development must therefore either be human-oriented or not occur at all. For any kind of development to be socially and humanly relevant, the process should develop and perpetuate the family as a social institution.

  1. Conclusion

Development is a general claim all over the world. While the development the world needs is human development, the development the world is offered is economic. That economic development is said to be performed for the family.  The family should be a clear enough notion that people cannot pretend to promote the family while they really promote a factory (see Becker). The family is a social unit which goes beyond statistics, far beyond its nuclear and exclusive dimension. The family should therefore escape the dominating blade of patriarchy, which gives rise to exclusion, and focus on the contrary aim of matriarchy, which calls us to inclusion. This means that the main kind of development the world needs is the development of the family in terms of its primordial, matriarchal values.

This does not mean womanising humankind. However, it goes without saying that humankind cannot do without the founding values of matriarchy, whatever the additive and complementary contributions of men. Indeed, we men are not women. Development will prove itself more human the very day the world legalises implementation of the founding values of matriarchy.  A rule of law based on the chalice or mother spirit has a better chance of being a rule of love. For family to remain a trigger and a cornerstone for development, all civilisations around the world should develop family as an inclusive and human unit of perpetuation for the inclusive human development of people all over the world.

That hypothesis may read as follows: as is the family, so is development. Tell the world which kind of family you develop, and the world will tell you which kind of development you achieve.


Charly Gabriel Mbock



Becker, Gary (1975). Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education. NBER.

Becker, Gary (1981). A Treatise on the Family. Harvard University Press.

Bekombo, Manga (1988). In UNESCO published study: The Family, the Child and Development in Africa.

Dertouzos, Michael (1998). What Will Be. HarperCollins.

Diop, Cheikh Anta (1991). Civilization or Barbarism. Chicago Review Press.

Eisler, Riane (1987). The Chalice and the Blade. Harper.

Engels, Friedrich (1884). The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

Harris, C. C. (1983). The Family and Industrial Society. Studies in Sociology. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Harris, Olivia (1984). Households as Natural Units. In Kate Young, Carol Wolkowitz, and Roslyn McCullagh (eds.). Of Marriage and the Market: Women’s Subordination Internationally and its Lessons. London: Routledge.

Hannan, Michael T. (1982). Families, Markets, and Social Structures: An Essay on Becker’s A Treatise on the Family. Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1; pp. 65-72.

Lewis, Oscar (1950). An Anthropological Approach to Family Studies. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 55, No. 5.

Nkwi, Paul Nchoji (1985). Traditional female militancy in a modern context. In Jean-Claude Barbier. Femmes du Cameroun. Paris: Karthala; Bondy: Orstrom.

Pollak, Robert A. (2002). Gary Becker’s Contributions to Family and Household Economics. NBER Working Papers 9232, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

Robert Mugabe’s most controversial quotes on gay marriage (2015, July 4). Entertainment Express. Available online at:

Robert Mugabe tells UN General Assembly (2015, September 29). The Independent. Available online at:

Stinchcombe, Arthur (1983). “A Treatise on the Family. Gary S. Becker,” Book Review in American Journal of Sociology 89, no. 2: 468-470.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (2016). Merriam-Webster.

UNESCO (1988). The Family, the Child and Development in Africa.

University of Singapore (2012). Anthropology & the Human Condition: An Introductory Course in Anthropology at the National University of Singapore. Available online at:

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the original author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views and opinions of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, its co-founders, or its staff members.