required readings:

This is the sixth in a series of notes to twelve lectures for my class Dynamics of Family Interaction.

Transition notes

The emphasis last week was on the institutionalization of particularly historical organizations of human beings in relation to each other, and the consequences this has in setting conditions for people. In other words we talked about the culturing of social organization and the production of inevitably different conditions for people closely linked to each other.

This week we shift to looking at some of the personal consequences of living within the conditions produced by this culturing.

In neither case are we talking about what has been learned but about what has to be dealt with (and how to analyze it)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
(Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice First sentence)

  1. The basic argument:

    It is the same as the one we have made about motherhood:

    1. the intrusion of a physiological event like puberty has never been ignored by human beings. Among every human group (for whom we have a record) something expands the biological facts of puberty, and thereby transforms them and make them fit with the overall cultural (social, economic) pattern characteristic of the group. Thus one must move (as we did for birth and infance) from
      1. the organization of the body (menarche, first ejaculation, earliest possible child-bearing)
      2. to
      3. the organization of the people (multiplication of people--particularly adults--involved in "authorizing" biological development (age grades, "teen age years," legal distinctions, etc.) )
      4. and
      5. the organization of the imagination (rites of passage, cautionary tales about "what adolescents are like," etc. ) -- what some now talk about the "discources" of puberty and adolescence
  2. Matters of emphasize

    in the papers by Canaan and Holland/Skinner is somewhat different as they emphasize the difficulties that this cultural transformation can create for the actual persons involved--even if these people are fundamentally "in agreement with" the cultural patterns involved ("share the same values") or if they routinely use the (cognitive) categories involved:

    1. For Holland/Skinner this means moving from a purely cognitive analysis of a set of terms (thereby producing a map of what one can argue a group "shares") to a suggestion that these terms are used in and for dramatic performances in tales about their encounters, and probably, during the actual unfolding of the performance. (see Holland and Eisenhart, 1990)
      1. the model.
      2. For Canaan, this means emphasizing the "problem" which tales about girls like "Debbie" (who may not have existed) who are known as enjoying sexual activity make for the actual girl Melissa (whom Canaan interviewed)
    2. We have talked a lot about 'culture' so far as the way to face that human beings, 'naturally', do more with their biology than would be expected by examining this biology by itself.
      1. Given that this not a course about culture theory, I will not go very far with these issues. Those interested in the issues might consult my pages on culture theory and might also be interested in my class "Communication and culture."
    3. I have chosen to start with these papers because they move us straight to a talk about the difficulties inherent in cultural patterning. "Culture" does not provide a solution to existential dilemmas. In many cases it constructs particular dilemmas. In all cases it leaves actors, like Melissa, uncertain about what to do next even as they are quite sure about how anything they do might be interpreted, or about what might the ranges of consequences be. Thus one can imagine that Melissa, like every one else in a similar situation (e.g. in the middle of a date, or in the middle of any other overstereotyped encounter), is, at the same time:
      1. confused about what to do next;
      2. resistant to what appears necessary
      3. and eventually possibly reproductive of the conditions that made the problems, precisely because most of her activity (as agent) was in response to the conditions.
      4. though possibly transformative within the more local "polities of practice" to which Melissa may be accountable.
      5. for more on all this, see Portia Sabin's Truths, universally acknowledged: Friendship and romance as education between college students in America (Ph.D. dissertation. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College. 2004), and 2007
    4. Note that this kind of analysis makes no hypothesis about the source of the cultural pattern. It emphasizes the "facticity" of the pattern (it is fully material for those who cannot ignore it) and its local reconstruction ("constitution") in local practices. That is, given two adolescents dating:
      1. the conditions of "the date" are given;
      2. they produce these conditions at the very time that they "perform" the date.
    5. This kind of analysis however does point at the historical construction of the pattern (it is not "natural"), its ties with other patterns, and the involvement of others in the local constitution of the date. In other words, the "local" is never independent of the broader conditions (economic, political, etc.) within which it is made to fit. Here too, it is useful to distinguish among:
      1. the people who made the conditions (most of Whom may be dead);
      2. the conditions themselves as facts of life for those who live within them.
      3. the people who interpret what is done locally (most of whom are probably not local people)
      4. the facticity of the interpretations.
    6. Heathers (1989), media representations, cultural performance and social consequences. You can also use Mean Girls (2004) for similar purposes. The television series Friday Night Lights explores more implications of these representations and their dramatic possibilities.
      1. you may also be interested in my blog entry on Divergent (2014).
Some questions in the context of this lesson
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  • How would you complete a sentence starting "It is a truth universally acknowledged that ..." if you were to transpose Pride and Prejudice into the 21st century (as was made for Austen's Emma in its transformation into the movie Clueless)
  • Discuss the power, pathos, and limits, of the statement that certain things are "universally acknowledged."