Varenne, Hervé "Talk and real talk: The voices of silence
and the voices of power in American family life." Cultural
Anthropology 2: 369-394. 1987
This is the twelfth in a series of notes to fifteen lectures for
my class Dynamics of Family Interaction.
Radical ethnographies of family practices:
What is it that people do do in the privacy of their homes?
- In brief, we can think about the "American" nuclear
as a multi-faceted "fact"
(something that was made up, facted, in history and is now a constraint on all producing everyday lives in the United States. This fact:
- a set of symbols (husband, wife, etc.) Expanded into myth (think
of Canaan's cautionary tales).
- institutionalized by the State (and State-like agencies: the
- inscribed on the landscape (housing)
- the starting point for
- the construction of a life (think about Canaan's Melissa
as the interprets her dates)
- As a fact the Nuclear Family (as institutions and tales)
- a solution to the tensions produced by Industrialization and
capitalism. (Thus it may be easiest to live one's childhood, adulthood,
and to raise children in nuclear households);
- a problem for those who cannot or will not construct nuclear
households for themselves;
- and to every one else that has to make something that can recognized
as a family without history: what must we all do so that "nothing
- As "problem"
the Nuclear Family requires work, daily
work, as Tolstoy, in a powerful
passage in Anna Karanina has Levin, the counter-point hero to
- This work may have consequences
- on the mental health of all at work together (family system
and their correlates from Bateson to Laing and onward to family therapy)
- on educational
results (social reproduction)
But, before investigating outcomes on participants,
one must understand
better what exactly this work can consist of. This is the major point of
my work in Ambiguous Harmony.
- from an interest in language as socialization to an interest in language as the media(tion) of practical everday life
- looking at what cannot be recorded given the limits of observers at the time scale at which they operate (and the limits of theparticipants)
- confirming Tolstoy's wisdom: everyday family life is made up of an infinite amount of trivial tasks that must be performed day in and day out because daily history continually bring new stuff that cannot be "just dealt with" in the absence of various conversational processes. Socializing children and balancing adult personalities (to use Parsons' phrasing) is a matter of birthday parties, dancing lessons and pouts, as well as shopping for furniture, repairing the household, maintaining networks of family and friends, and so on and so forth.
- bringing together various forms of talk/action that are all involved in producing everyday life
point of the article
"Talk and real talk"
- talking about a china closet ("actual" talk)
- talking about talking about a china clost ("real" talk)
- talking to divorce
- talking about talking to identify "America" -- but not Americans
- As both solution and problem,
the Nuclear Family limits what can
be done practically in the United States. It blinds people to possibilities,
erases other solutions. This is particularly true in the behavioral sciences
concerned with the family. By simplifying what it is that "the family is all about" the behavioral sciences keep making us miss what we actually experience. For example:
- the continued extent of cross-household
and cross-family linkages,
- the persistence of a push to exploit blood
and descent lines to improve one's conditions.
|Some questions in the context of this lesson