This chapter establishes the book’s intention to critique the exercise of power of family practices against the values of an open society. As a background to understanding modern forms of family governance, it outlines the ‘welfarism’ thesis which maintains that family governance has moved from an era of instrumentalism, through a welfarist phase, to an era of scepticism about institutional structures, and claims for individual empowerment where rights claims have attempted to re-align the sources of power over people’s personal lives. The fragmentation of family forms suggests it may be better to see family law as the law relating to the personal lives of individuals, rather than related to specific social forms, and therefore be more appropriately termed ‘personal’ law.
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