required readings:

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

Transition notes

In the last lecture, I emphasized variation across populations ("cultures") in the possible organization of the fulfilment of the biological needs of young children, focusing on language acquisition and expanding to other areas of early development whether directly related to biology (toilet training) or related to the spread of a particular institution or technology in a population (literacy).

The emphasis was on possibilities and transformations, on humanity ("culture") making its own world through its capacity for education, that is learning through questioning and debating. Thus the emphasis, when looking at young children, on their participation and investigation (not so much "soaking in learning" as squeezing it out of the environment, not so much "wiggling" in contentment as "wriggling" to escape)

In this lecture we turn to issues of differentiation in experiences within a population one's particular kinds of practices get institutionalized.



  1. The "culture" of motherhood: a theoretical evolution, building on ethnographic work from
    1. a nuclear core with exceptions (Murdock, Parsons, Lévi-Strauss)
    2. to
    3. the mother-child core (Carribeans, Black family in the United States, etc.)
    4. to
  2. the cultural transformations of motherhood
    1. from "extra-vagance" (Boon, 1999)
      1. nannies, mammies, aunties, etc.
      2. wet nurses
      3. fosterage
      4. day care centers, pre-schools, etc.
    2. to the dramatic (Drummond)
      1. "nanny-takers" vs. "nanny-givers"
      2. (social class, slavery and other political and economic structurings)
      3. unpredictable matters to investigate carefully
        1. for research, apparently "academic," rationales having to do with "greater understanding."
        2. for practice with families, and for family policy
  3. the meaning and implications of the ultural construction of motherhood:
    1. the impact of the actual mothers involved (e.g. attitudes towards infant death: Scheper-Huges).
    2. differentiated education
      1. ignorant mothers teaching children to be known, later, as particularly knowledgeable
        1. the paradox of nannies to whom the children of the upper classes are entrusted for the socialization
      2. knowledgeable mothers being told that they are ignorant
        1. the paradox of parent education for the poor, or in "underdeveloped" countries (breast feeding vs. formula, etc.)
  4. The issue is not "what is a mother made up of?" but "who makes this mother at this time?"
    1. On this matter check a further discussion of determination and causality.
    2. Issues of class and the production of difference among human beings
    3. The cultural construction of parenthood in an American movie: Parenthood, It could happen to you
Some questions in the context of this lesson
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  • If "motherhood" is most cultural, what else might be equally cultural in family life if one follows Drummond's suggestion?
  • If you have seen the movies series Aliens how might it make sense