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

  1. American Blacks and the sociology of families in poverty

    Note the existence of similar controversies about the fate of migrants from the Spanish-speaking Americas--particularly Puerto-Ricans.

    1. For better, and probably often for worse, the family lives of American blacks in rural and urban poverty has been a major issue of contention, politically first, and, in an entertwined fashion, in the behavioral sciences. Given the same point of departure (that slavery was an absolute evil, that racial discrimination has persisted after emancipation), every statement about the characteristics of the families blacks constructed in slavery and later has been sharply contested, as well as the hypothesis on the later development of blacks.
    2. In the 1990s, this evolved into controversies about the impact of the "great society" programs (particularly the extension of welfare) on the last two generations of the poorest among blacks.
    3. Policy issues regarding families in poverty have been relatively muted since the Clinton reforms. But the disputes in the social sciences continue.
  2. A brief history of the controversy:

    In brief it first seemed unquestionable that both slavery, and the later migration from the rural South to the urban North, were equally destructive of family ties and "thereby" (given psycho-dynamic theories about the relationship between family ties and mental health) produced the higher rate of all vices (my use of a moral term is deliberate here given the moral overtones of all this research) that could be observed among the urban poor by contrast to their rural consins, or their neighbors among the middle-classes: alcoholism and drug addiction, teen-age pregnancy and child abuse, low educational achievements even when schools are available, etc.

    1. Franklyn Frazier in the 1930s (building on Thomas and Znaniecki on Polish immigrants in Chicago (1919)
    2. Moynihan (and Oscar Lewis, etc.) in the 1960s

      "at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of weakness of the Negro community at the present time... The white family has achieved a high degree of stability and is maintaining that stability. By contrast, the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown." (in The Moynihan report and the politics of controversy. Edited by L. Rainwater and W. Yancey, 41-124. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press. 1967 [1965])

    3. Whitehead, Wilson, etc. in the 1980s.
  3. The reaction:
    1. in history: Gutman (see class notes on family possibilities under slavery.
    2. in anthropology and sociology:
      1. Valentine
      2. Shimkin and particularly Stack
        1. evidence for the uncoupling of sexuality, biological reproduction, and social reproduction (the multiplication of fathers and mothers)
        2. evidence for complex extended kin networks
        3. evidence for "matrifocality"
    3. In general, anthropologists assumed that they had convincingly demonstrated that black family life in poverty in much more organized than can be imagined by examining only the differences in the rate of prosperity and mental health and the correlations between these rates.
    4. It may in fact be the case that the pressures of poverty require more familial activity and, furthermore, that the specific character of poverty in America shapes particular forms of activity.
  4. The reaction to the reaction (and the rehabilitation of Moynihan?)

    But is all this "healthy" (Whitehead) or likely to produce mobility into the middle classes?

    1. Ogbu and Lareau
    2. In 2008, major efforts to address differential access to material prosperity in the United States, including the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, continue to highlight the contextual issues, including family organization issues, that may "explain" differential success in school, what is often called the "achievement gap.
    3. Wilson
    4. Furstenberg (1999): a large scale research project involving both ethnographic and experimental designs.

      Our objective has been to examine ways in which developmental processes are constrained by neighborhood settings ... (Brooks-Gunn et al. 1993; Jencks and Mayer 1990; .... Wilson 1991). ... Much of this work has accepted the idea that parents and children produce characteristic responses to constraints and opportunities present in their immediate environments in ways that create distinctive local cultures

      1. a complex design that might have been a good example of a "grounded theory" process starting with
        1. an ethnography with observations and interviews leading to
        2. experimental designs operationalizing what is first hypothesized as potentially significant eventually leading to report of "findings" separating the significant from the not significant
    5. The need for new forms of research
      1. The danger of operationalized dichotomies and (action?) research driven by a moral or ideological imperative.
Some questions in the context of this lesson