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

From setting up children for love/sex

and setting them up for careers

TO Marriage as further cultural elaboration

Examining Lesbians and Gays struggling with public, adult, relationships ("love" and "marriage") to see more starkly the issues facing all people in America.

  1. an issue
    1. as an issue for individuals:
      1. should I?
      2. when?
      3. with whom?
      4. ...
    2. as an issue for the polity
      1. why marriage?
      2. what kind?
        1. laws, regulations,
        2. justifications
        3. imagination
  2. a set of accountable constraints,

    possibilities, resources at the particular time when it becomes an issue (marriage as "synchronic structure")

    1. set up through historical evolution
      1. there are no cultures without "marriage" in the most general term of the linking of particular members of the group as far as sexual access and association of children with these persons
    2. prescribed discourses identifying the (not) normal and prescribing consequences
    3. problems renewed any time this evolution produces new conditions, resources and constraints
      1. thus "culture" -- no two marriage system is quite alike
  3. an act (series of acts) that is
    1. public (to peers, family, insitutions, the law)
    2. political (in so far as it changes the relationship of the persons concerned starting with the couple and eventually involving all those who have to deal with the initial couple)
    3. personal in that the public and political aspect of marriage necessarily transforms the personal experience of whatever brought the two together.


  1. Marriage is public/political even when those directly involved attempt to escape or transform the relationship
    1. "not getting married"
    2. having a relationship
    3. Once an adult one cannot escape marriage ("you are not married yet?" "he is an old bachelor?" "they do not believe in marriage").  This is particularly when one has actually been formally married with divorce becoming relevant.  In any event, one will always "have been married."
  2. Marriage triggers America -- consequentially.  It triggers
    1. everything having to do with gender as accountable (not the same as prescribed)
      1. practices
      2. discourses
      3. problems
    2. the "proper" marriage as, also
      1. practices
      2. discourses
      3. problems
  3. Thus the debates of the past 100 years on such matters as
    1. sexual liberation
    2. divorce reform
    3. gay recognition/marriage
    4. child welfare, etc.
  4. America?

    Americans? People in the United States? How are behavioral scientists to talk/write about the dominant (hegemonic) conditions of life in the nation-state and everywhere where Hollywood reaches (as well as Harvard and Salt Lake City).

    1. How are these concerns to be handled when focusing on "family."? Are we (behavioral scientists) to write about
      1. a statistical distribution?
      2. a "traditional-family-that-never- existed," "The Myth"?
      3. a model of what people who talk about the family talk about?
      4. a model of that which resists people as they construct their family?
    2. Answers to these questions produce very different kinds of research findings, and fit within quite different political agendas:
      1. The Parsonian alternative: the "nuclear family" as best adapted to industrialization (balance between amarket economic system with "free" agents selling their labor).
      2. The Schneiderian alternative: "American kinship" as sex/blood/love as abstracted from interviews (see Holland/Quinn).
      3. Weston's alternative: no America (p.15-16), straight kinship (based in biology) as constructed by gay kinship (based on choice) (p.211)
    3. Still, all three answers operate in terms of a "nuclear family" that is either "over-inscribed" as "real" (as in Parsons) and "under-inscribed" as a figment of some imaginations (as in the kind of literature typified by Weston).
      1. Parsonian (socio-demographic) analyses seem to assume that the nuclear family is what is to be found In the United States, thereby hiding non-nuclear Immediate families, as well as extended ties
      2. critics of Parsons, by emphasizing the "mythical" aspect of the nuclear family, fail to explain the persistent power of the nuclear model (with its complex interplay between blood, sex, and love)
    4. These difficulties suggest that there is something factual about the "nuclear family" that is to be analyzed for
      1. its characteristics
      2. its consequences in everyday life
      3. its enforcers
      4. the consequences of the inscribed facticity of the nuclear family on the development of "alternatives" and attempts at reform.
    5. The characteristics: Blood, sex, love, choice (Weston, like Schneider, completely misses the fact that "love" always supersedes "sex" or "blood" in the hegemonic myth)
    6. The consequences (see Canaan, Holland and Skinner 1987)
    7. the enforcers: the State
    8. alternatives? Choosing choice and claiming the ideological highground (thereby reproducing the model?).

[on family rituals (by Mark Auslander)]

Some questions in the context of this lesson