Possibility in constraints: culture in structure-- I

Issues of Slavery: Possibilities under maximal contraints

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

  1. Slavery in the Americas as a particularly powerful case to look at
    1. patterns of constraints, change and productivity under the most extreme of constraints,
    2. the implications of various social theories for the design of policy.
  2. B. in brief, one can assume
    1. that the Africans who were brought to the Americas against their will had been born and has been participants in various "cultures" --understood as varied types of institutionalized patterns for interaction.
    2. that conditions in various parts of the Americas were themselves quite different and thus that both constraints and possibilities under slavery were quite varied depending on such varied matters as:
      1. the density of the African population;
      2. the uses to which the slaves were put;
      3. the religious and political ideologies of the masters and of the political institutions in which they were themselves placed.
    3. the situation in the United States was quite specific

    4. In the United States, one can assume, more specifically, that the slaves had very different experiences whether they were working
      1. as domestic servants
      2. on small plantations
      3. on large plantations

        One can also assume that, for whatever reasons, the ideological hegemony of Protestantism, Jeffersonian Democracy, Individualism, etc., was particularly caustic of African patterns, and productive of a particular type of dehumanizing racism (Dumont 1970).

    5. D. Research on the fate of Africans in the United States as they transformed into Negroes, Blacks, African-Americans, that is particular kinds of people within American culture has also emphasized two other major historical events in the evolution of the fate of the descendants of those who were brought to North America against their will:

      1. Reconstruction and the establishment of a rural culture of small farmers in the South.
      2. he movement to the urban centers of the North.
    6. Classically, in the works of the great Black sociologist Franklin Frazier (1948), this history has been interpreted as constituting two major disruptions of cultural continuity with major impact on family structure, first, and on psychological functioning, second, as per all theories of "normal" development. This is the theory that Moynihan (1967, 1968) ceased upon and which became the basis for many of the "Great Society" and "War on Poverty" programs of the 1960s.

    7. These are also the theories that a large group of social scientists, including anthrologists, sociologists, and historians, have worked on refuting or refining as they began actually to look in detail at the lives of slaves, small farmers, and then urban families.

    8. G. Gutman's work belongs to this tradition. It has the characteristic of suggesting that the slaves in the United States where not has radically passive of dominated as they have been made to be in the prevalent historical and sociological literature. This can be taken to mean

      • 1. that slavery was not as bad as it is said to have been;
      • 2. that the slaves remained active cultural agents even though they were placed in one of the most constraining situation that human beings have been able to construct for each other.

    I will take the second position.

  3. While Gutman has been criticized for making much of very limited evidence, this evidence is powerfully evocative of an activity that flourished in the cracks of the system and flowered as soon as the system weakened as it regularly did, until it was killed.

  4. I. His main evidence about the continual reconstruction of families under slavery:

    November 8, 1999