Short Bibliographic Essay

This is part of a monograph on Families, education and the state in America (Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1997.)

Just a brief look at Bahr's two volumes (1991) compiling 60 years of research into the family is enough to convince one of the continuing fascination with the topic. Whether one believes or not that the family is losing its function or closing in on itself as a nuclear household (Bumpass 1990; Parsons 1955; Giddens 1992; Shorter 1977) the liveliness of the field demonstrates that there are phenomena here that beg for further research-though possibly of a different kind (Gubrium 1990; Poster 1986). Given the power of the hypothesis that modernism necessarily focuses the family on the household, and the concurrent hypothesis that adult personality is mostly developed in the first years of life, in interaction with few significant others, it is not surprising that much of the research deals with personality development, particularly on what can go wrong (Bateson 1959, 1969; Blankenhorn 1995; Bronfenbrenner 1979; Furstenberg 1991; Garfinkel 1986; Gubrium 1992; Henry 1965; Jackson 1968a, 1968b; Laing 1964, 1969; Lidz 1963, 1992; Lidz et al 1965; Parsons and Bales 1955; Popenoe 1996; Reiss 1981; Singly 1996;Watzlavick 1967, 1968). This literature is enormous and quite varied particularly in its understanding of what is to be meant by "family organization" and in its methodological preferences but the message is consistent. It is so consistent that it continues to be the foundation for research searching to understand what happens to children and then adults who are raised in poor households (Clark 1983; Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1997; Harrington 1962; Heath 1991; Lewis 1965, 1966; Moynihan 1967). This research opened the way for a concern with the place of families in social reproduction, at which point it became clear that much is involved than personality development. One also needed to explore the exact mechanisms of poverty as a social environment requiring specific adaptations (Bernstein 1974a, 1974b; Bourdieu [1972] 1977, 1994; Bourdieu and Passeron [1970] 1977; Heath 1983; Ogbu 1974, 1991). Still, much of this literature, to the very extent that it relied on internalization as the mediating principle between childhoods in poverty and adulthoods in poverty, failed to highlight both the nature of the conditions and the activity of the people in these conditions. It became clear that all American families had to be understood in the full context of the more theoretical work on family and kinship in anthropology, sociology and history, including work on class structure and on the continued relevance of extended kin ties in modernity (Bott [1957] 1971; Goldthorpe 1980; Goody 1958; Hareven 1977, 1991; Holloman 1978; Shimkin et al. 1978a, 1978b; Levi-Strauss [1947] 1969; 1956; Schneider 1984; Sheper-Huges 1992; Schneider [1968] 1980; Yanagisako 1979) . Given such a perspective, it became easier to understand how it could happen that, even after a century or more of attempting to equalize chances, family background continues to makes such a difference in the career of children (Coleman 1966; Jencks 1979; Lareau 1989). Clearly, all the processes involved in making families in America involve much more than personality development (Ginsburg 1989; Ginsburg et al. 1990; Hayden 1995; Marcus 1992; Mension-Rigau 1990, 1994; Modell and Hareven 1977; Neville 1987; Perin 1977, 1988; Strathern 1992; Varenne 1996; Weston 1991). This has led to research that is determined to understand the relationships between families as an active process of joint construction across kin groups and classes within particular conditions (Boon 1974; Drummond 1978; Goldman 1982; Hill and Varenne 1981; Schneider and Smith 1973; Stack 1975, 1996; Varenne and McDermott 1998). This directly leads to the realization that families are not simply involved in a mechanical process of socialization or enculturation, they are specifically involved in education.

Last revision: December 3, 1997