Amoral familism is a term used to describe social behavior that is only focused on the family’s economic security. The use of collective action to benefit a larger community is unimportant in societies built on amoral familism. The theory was put up as an explanation for why certain cultures haven’t seen economic advancement by American political scientist Edward C. Banfield in his 1958 book, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. This concept is in contrast to the widely held belief in economics that people concerned with improving their economic situation also contribute to the growth of their society. Scottish economist Adam Smith notably advanced this belief.
After researching the southern Italian culture, Banfield concluded that amoral familism was the primary cause of the area’s deprivation and lack of progress.
Amoral familism refers to social activity that is consistently focused on the economic needs of the nuclear family. The incapacity of the villagers to work together for their common benefit or, in fact, for any purpose surpassing the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family, according to Edward C. Banfield, is to blame for the community’s backwardness, “primarily but not totally.”
This mentality had been formed due to the institution of the extended family being absent and other factors such as a high mortality rate and specific land-tenure requirements. Banfield’s theory sparked intense discussion regarding the definition of “familism” and the broader impact of culture on promoting or inhibiting economic growth.
Following this notion, citizens of a society would abide by its rules only to the extent that they do not conflict with what they believe to be best for their family. The ties inside the family will take priority if there is a dispute between the two.
Amoral familism, according to Banfield, encourages individuals to prioritize their own family above other members of society. This resulted in a lack of trust, a lack of collaboration, and a focus on self-interest. Moreover, as individuals were more inclined to breach the law if it benefitted their family, he further asserted that amoral familism led to crime and corruption.
Many individuals have questioned this characterization, especially Italian academicians who contend that it unjustly demonizes the inhabitants of southern Italy.