required readings:

These notes are the seventh in a series of twelve lecture for my class Dynamics of the Family.
[created June 12, 2001]

It is important to note that by emphasizing issues of sexuality when talking about adolescence, what too easily ignore the context within which this sexuality plays itself in America: the School, and, through the School, all the processes that place adolescents within the overall social system. In other words, the social future of adolescents is constructed in the interaction between family and school. The very raising of school performance into the central factor in adult success may partially explain why sexuality is relatively freed from any other issues than pleasure.

I start with a story I wish I had had the chance to make into a real ethnographic case.

A long while ago, I was standing at the back of a hotel room at one AAA meeting in a position that allowed me a view of both the center of the room and the bathroom the door to which was open. At the center of the room a small party was going on, organized by a student who had been conducting fieldwork in a middle class school. She had invited one of her star-informants to come to the meeting to see what the anthropological tribe looked like.

The informant had been driven to Washington by her mother, and the two of them were now in the bathroom, one sitting on the edge of the bathtub, the other standing engaged in an earnest conversation. No joking, no anger, just business: some piece of mail had come from a college the girl had applied to and something had to be done about it urgently.

(for more see my lecture "A dilemma for American middle class families: deconstructing priviledge" (Emory University 2000)


  1. Some comments on the history of the interest in the passing of status, access to resources, etc., from the older to the younger generations. Issues
    1. What is there to pass on:
      1. names,
      2. ('real') property
      3. status,
      4. capital (financial)
      5. capital (cultural)
    2. The correlatives of the objective qualities of what is to be passed on: passing on land in an agricultural society requires different processes than passing professional status in a long-lived ('advanced?' 'post-?') industrial society
    3. Gender, age, etc., and means of control in social reproduction
      1. laterality (through the men, the women, or divided depending on various other matters)
      2. control
        1. of sexuality and/or marriage
        2. of who gets what (bride price, dowry, inheritance, "divergent devolution" (Goody 1976)

  2. Family and social reproduction in the United States: Why it might be difficult to talk about this:
    1. democracy: the illegitimacy of social recognition through family background
    2. the psychology of personal development: the reconstitution of 'individualism' as a fact of nature.

  3. The continued reality of family processes in social reproduction
    1. as evidenced through work in cognitive psychology and school psychology: family background strongly influences both general cognitive development and all aspects of school performance
    2. as evidenced through the work of such sociologists of education as Bourdieu: to the extent that status reproduction in modern societies is constituted through the school, then families have a very strong interest in controlling the schooling both of their own children and of that of all other children who might compete with them

  4. The nature of these processes in America (the United States as experienced through its major constitutive political and expressive institutions)
    1. The centrality of schooling (even for parents involved in 'home schooling')
    2. the manipulation of schooling through political and economic means
      1. control of school boards in small towns
      2. mobility and housing
      3. private schooling
      4. funding for public education, affirmative action, open admission, etc.
    3. Another case of (unacknowledged) 'divergent devolution' whereby parents
      1. distribute a lot of their capital (economic and cultural) at adolescence
      2. strongly control the schooling of their children
      3. have not much interest in controlling sexuality or marriage

  5. Culture and middle-class resistance: "Class is sh*t but what you gonna do 'bout it?"
Some questions
StudyPlace conversations
  • Is organizing the schooling of one's child an attack on that child's "freedom"? (and what is freedom in society anyway?)
  • An argument can be made that children are schooled not because this is how they will learn the skills they need, but so that they can get the degrees they may need to start learning in more comfortable circumstances: explore.
  • could the well-known relationship between degrees of schooling and later income be a self-fulfilling prophecy when employers require degrees without verifying whether the person they hire knows the needed skills (or without checking whether someone withough the degree could perform the task)?