3- The Historical Sense

This is the fourth in a series of notes to fifteen lectures for my class TF5005: Interdisciplinary Study of the Family.
Transition notes

Implicit in Parson's paper is an evolutionary model that is explicit in many of his writings and in the writings of the dominant sociologists of his time (and often continuing to this day): the current situation (almost functionless nuclear families) is the product of a long history, and particularly of the industrial revolution.

At the time the model, as applied to family life, was essentially hypothetical, based on a generalization of what appeared the case in other areas of social life, particularly individualism, rationalization, economic development, etc. (Max Weber).

  1. It is certainly the case that, until rather recently, the social sciences that developed starting in the 19th century, particularly sociology and then anthropology, had a somewhat schizophrenic relationship to history:
    1. theoretically, they were strongly interested in social evolution, and they operated in terms of major hypotheses about social change. This was particularly true of studies of family and kinship since it made complete sense to all early theorists that the human species would have started with different kinship arrangements than it eventually evolved as other things changed.
    2. methodologically, they focused on narrower and narrower sections of time. This made sense, particularly to anthropologists as they criticized earlier generations for a kind of "armchair anthropology" that theorize on the basis of very limited information about the lives of the people.

  2. At the same time classical history mostly ignored the kinds of questions about social structure, or the relationship of institutions to each other, that concerned the other social sciences and refused directly to use the kind of data sociologists and anthropologists found most congenial

  3. All this started to change in the late 50s and 60s as the social sciences, particularly anthropology, and history converged and started borrowing each others methods, concerns and analytic modes.
    1. in sociology, the same analytic movement that had sent anthropologists to the field sent some sociologists to search for the historical genesis of what they were sure was a fundamental process of modernization and industrialization. This was hypothesized to have very distinct consequences, and thus operated in terms of a model of "before" that needed to be checked.
    2. in anthropology, historical data that had initially been hard to gather was found to be available. At the same time, theoretical interest in process and change came to center stage. In the past 20 years the interest in history has come to dominate much work in the discipline.

  4. Hareven is one of those who have contributed most to the convergence of anthropology, sociology and anthropology in the study of the Western family. Given the locale of her work in England and the United States, her concerns may appear most directly related to sociological interests, but the convergence of anthropology and sociology means that her work is central to all try to understand the conditions of everyday life in families.

    Furthermore, she uses extensively notions directly developed by anthropologists.

  5. Hareven's concern:
    1. critique of grand theorizing in the absence of specific data (against Aries, Shorter, etc.)
    2. acknowledgements of the relevance of anthropological concepts like kin group, life-course and the development cycle of domestic groups
    3. some specific issues
      1. household size
      2. age at marriage
      3. fluctuation in the nuclear household structure (p. 101) [see Berreman on polyandry]
      4. differences in the context of apparently similarly household arrangements
      5. movements of people in and out of household and the scheduling of life cycle transitions (p. 106)
      6. kin ties outside the household and division of labor within extended kins.
        1. note the impact that would have on household organization: multiple organization, one structure?
      7. the relationship of family organization to the organization of productive labor, including industrial labor
      8. strategies for dealing with conditions: early approaches to "agency" (p. 116, quote from W.I. Thomas)
      9. gender issues
  6. Our concerns: recapturing theory given all the observations.  In some ways Hareven leaves history where the early cultural anthropologists left anthropology: with a long catalogue of miscellaneous fact suggesting a great multiplicity but no clear framework to analyze this diversity.  The matter is made relative more complex for history than it is in anthropology since most of the observed differentiation occurs within the same cultural area, among groups directly linked with each other or emerging from each other.

September 27, 1999