This is the first in a series of notes to fifteen lectures for my class Interdisciplinary Study of the Family.
  1. Preliminaries: My approach:

      1. not an introduction to any of the disciplines that self-define themselves as being concerned "with the family";
      2. not a linear review of "findings" or of what different fields are doing, separately and aggregatively;
      3. not a research seminar exploring some cutting edge issue;


      1. a summary of what it is that we have learned about "family" that had proven to be most useful and that one needs to take into account when conducting research about the family: what should we look at when we enter a family? what are the lenses available?

    In brief, this course is summary and critical. It is the product of 25 years of research into matters such as

    1. cultural imagination,
    2. social reproduction
    3. face-to-face interaction
    4. local action in many settings
    that are addressed in various ways by the literature on "kinship" and "the family."

    Several important matters must be cleared at the outset.

    1. The word "family" is to be always heard with quote marks around it. It is useful as a kind of rallying point bringing us together. To this very extent, it is also very dangerous if we take it to be more than a way for us to talk in this setting, if we take it to be referring to a phenomenon to be "discovered" (like an unknown continent, or a physical law can be "dis-covered"--un-covered). The family is a gloss for a complex of activities. Our first and only task is to rediscover the events behind the gloss even as we recognize that we cannot escape the gloss which is in fact one of the events with which we must deal.

      [this is not question of "myth" versus "reality"]

    2. The word "family" is always to be understood to refer to a crowd of people (many of them dead) who form a context for all personsons. It is not to be understood to refer to a the inhabitants of a household ("nuclear family").

    Thus, any research that directly confronts events as they happen in history is relevant to an understanding of family--whatever the original discipline whose tradition has allowed for an intuition to institutionalize itself into a particular insight.

  2. The course is an attempt at integrating several apparently heterogeneous trends into one new tradition that would encompass them:
    1. communicational analysis (out of the fields of communication, linguistics, socio- and psycho-linguistics, discourse and conversational analysis)
    2. "economic," "materialistic" (Marxist) analysis
    3. symbolic (cultural) analysis (out of anthropology and some literary criticism and philosophy of language)

  3. The movement is towards analyses that preserve the concreteness, practical character of action in the natural environment of human beings. This is related to the concerns of those who say they are interested in "communication" and "symbolic interaction" as long as we understand
    1. "symbolic" to refer to a linguistic activity that associates signs with a historical stream that is thereby segmented;
    2. "interaction" to be precisely inter-action, something that happens when people are with other people and thus cannot be studied in its effect on people (this being a separate problem in the elaboration or per- sonality). It must be studied when people are together, actively producing something practical. We must look at them where we can see them being a context and thereby constraining each other, struggling and eventually producing something that then becomes incorporated into their joint history

      [the technical question of "interviewing" (and other techniques where we appear to be learning something that is not currently happening but that is being referred to: an interview is an event to be understood in the same manner as we understand any event. This means that, unless we are interested in interviews as such, we cannot substitute an interview for a direct investigation of the event we are actually interested in.]

    Thus, I will only review research that struggles to reach inter-action which means almost solely research that is the result of ethnographic investigation (though this covers a wide area of activities as will become evident).

September 14, 1999