“An intellectual gem”

  - Martin K. Whyte

“Grand theory at its best”

  - Calvin Goldscheider

“Strikingly original and extremely important”

  - Linda Waite

“Abundant and convincing evidence”

  - Susan Cotts Watkins

Reading History Sideways:
The Fallacy and Enduring Impact of the Developmental Paradigm on Family Life

by Arland Thornton
University of Chicago Press
344 p. 2 maps. 2005
Series: (PD) Population and Development Series

Short Synopsis

European and American scholars from the eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries thought that all societies passed through the same developmental stages, from primitive to advanced. Implicit in this developmental paradigm—one that has affected generations of thought on societal development—was the assumption that one could "read history sideways." That is, one could see what the earlier stages of a modern Western society looked like by examining contemporaneous so-called primitive societies in other parts of the world.

In Reading History Sideways, leading family scholar Arland Thornton demonstrates how this approach, though long since discredited, has permeated Western ideas and values about the family. Further, its domination of social science for centuries caused the interpretation of Western trends in family structure, marriage, fertility, and parent-child relations. Revisiting the "developmental fallacy," Thornton here traces its central role in changes in the Western world, from marriage to gender roles to adolescent sexuality. Through public policies, aid programs, and colonialism, it continues to shape families in non-Western societies as well.

 Reading History Sideways book cover

Recent Pub

Allendorf. Schemas of Marital Change: From Arranged Marriages to Eloping for Love. Journal of Marriage and Family.

Recent Pub

Thornton, Pierotti, Young-DeMarco, Watkins. Developmental Idealism and Cultural Models of the Family in Malawi. Population Research and Policy Review.

Reading History Sideways

The method of reading history sideways is described and critiqued by Arland Thornton

Recent Pub

Binstock, Thornton, Abbasi-Shavazi, Ghimire, Xie, Yount. Influences on the knowledge and beliefs of ordinary people about developmental hierarchies. International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

© 2014
Developmental Idealism
Population Studies Center
University of Michigan