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June 11, 2008 / C H Thompson

Cereal packet family

In 1967 Edmund Leach recognised the power of the image of the traditional family. Leech called this image the ‘cereal packet image of the family’ because it was a socially constructed model laden with assumptions of how families ought to be. Such an image creates a normalised social construction of what a family should look like.pack_cornflakes_g

Ann Oakley (1982) described the cereal packet image of the family as one in which ‘conventional families are nuclear families composed of legally married couples, voluntarily choosing the parenthood of one or more (but not too many) children. While Feminist Barrie Thorne (1992) attacked this image for being ‘monolithic’ as it ignores diversity in family structures.

The above argument are seen throughout the advertising industry. Adverts tends to use the ‘cereal packet’ family as a stereotypical image which best describes family life in Britain today. Using Oakley’s definitions, we can recognise that a cereal packet family ‘has’ to meet the following criteria:

  1. be a nuclear family living with one or two of their natural dependent children.
  2. the couple is seen to be married (excludes single parent and cohabiting families)
  3. the couple is heterosexual (therefore no same sex couples)
  4. dad’s the breadwinner and mum stays at home to look after the housework/children. She might also have a part-time job in order to bring that little extra home

If you watch the clip below you can see if the points above are evident in the advert.

But how true is all the above in 2013? Has the growth in family diversity (single-parent families, same-sex couples etc.) changed the image (therefore is the discourse changing) of the cereal packet family from the traditional nuclear image to a more diverse image? You can make up your own mind by watching the two adverts below.

Return to family diversity

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