Possibility in constraints: culture in structure-- III
The "Black Family" (African-Americans and others in poverty)
This is the twelfth in a series of notes to fifteen
lectures for my class TF5005:
Interdisciplinary Study of the Family.
Our discussion of slavery and its impact on the families that slaves may
have been able to build, even if only temporarily, took us to the first
relative consensus in understanding the effects of family life in the most
difficult of stratified social systems:
Slavery is but one extreme form of unequal access to the resources
that allow for a "normal" (i.e. Freudian/Parsonian/American)
Migration into the economic bottoms of large urban centers is
equivalent in its "disruptive" effect as slavery was.
This is a general process observable whatever the cultural
background of the people in slavery or migration
research on Polish immigrants, Puerto-Ricans as well as
African-Americans all point in the same direction.
The normal family is constituted by two married (that is acknowledged
by all institutions as having entered into a special relationship with
each other) heterosexual (this went without saying since the two must
produce their own children biologically) adults who have divided
psychosocial labors among each other (instrumental roles for the male,
expressive roles for the female), produce biologicaly and socialize
children that are acknowledged by all as theirs.
Under many conditions this family form cannot be constituted with two
sets of results
short term: children will not get properly socialized and will
engage (that is it is statistically more probable that they, rather
than peers in proper families, will engage) in a whole set of
long term: as they have children themselves, this next generation
will itself reproduce the psychosocial problems of its
Thus, in this second generation, the problem becomes
one of unequal access to resources potentially amenable to
remediation through institutional change (e.g. the abolition
of slavery, or the success of trade unions in ensuring
relative prosperity for the working classes, or the opening
of class mobility through education, etc.)
problem of values and attitudes potentially amenable and
requiring psychological remediation.
This consensus had two classical forms: the "culture of poverty"
model (Lewis for Puerto-Ricans in New York City) and the
"disintegration" model (Moynihan for Blacks)
This consensus was attacked in several ways
politically by people pointing that the reproduction model of
psychosocial disruption ended up "blaming the victim" (and
possibly absolving the privileged, as well as stopping research into the
process that produce priviledge)
The difficulty with invectives attacking the motivation of
researchers like Parsons or Moynihan (ethnocentric, racist, male,
bourgeois,...) is that invectives do not allow for the kind of
(rational? culturally hegemonic?) kind of discourse that can change
opinions and, above all, policy.
empirically by many studies demonstrating what was called overall as
"the strengths of the Black family"
one of the most famous in Carol Stack's All our kin. The
papers we are reading to day belong to the same genre.
theoretically by many social scientists attempting to move beyond a
psychosocial theory of social processes, including the family, the local
community of families, the polity (families within a particular
institutional framework) and global society.
The basic theoretical underpinning of this course is one example
of this search.
The two papers and the evidence for the importance of complex extended kin
networks for American Blacks:
Black rural life in the south
"Family" (pp. 66-76): concept, rights and obligations,
marriage, fosterage, extension and corporation, "strong and
Question: what would a sociology of the family based on these
principles look like and what "problems" might it
identify looking at independent nuclear family as prevalent
Household/family (pp. 108-112)
Black life in an urban ghetto with some implications for the interface
between this life and various institutional contexts, particularly the
reciprocity, mutual concern and help organized by a core,
multiplicity of arrangements--particularly concerning child-rearing
and household organization (p.220)
Question: accepting this as "normal," what would a
psychosocial theory of socialization look like?
The difficulties in the empirical argument: ethnographic (case study) vs.
statistical evidence, ecological vs. epidemiological modeling, long term
process vs. short term product.
The recent reconstitution of the culture of poverty model (Ogbu, Comer)
and the continuing critique.