Re: Truth, Knowledge, Power

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Mon, 22 Apr 1996 15:25:40 -0400

In a message dated 96-04-21 19:59:40 EDT, Read@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU (Read,
Dwight ANTHRO) writes:

>Calo writes:
>"Anthropology began by going out into non-Western worlds in the attempt
>to learn about itself.... A different procedure might suggest trying
>to learn about ourselves as a means for beginning the dialogue that might
>lead to learning about others."

Dwight follows up in a later post with:

>To put it another way: Is anthropology, as a science, without
>insight on what are *very real issues in our society* [my emphasis],
>where the issues relate
>to topics that are part and parcel of what anthropology has
>traditionally studied?

He then considers the issue of family breakdown in light of the action of two
variables: day care and parent abuse. As I read the thread, it seems to pose
the following questions: does day care [child care "outside" the home]
undercut the bonding of parents and children and, thereby, weaken the family?
Is a weakened family (whether by day care or by other factors) more likely
to see its children become anti-social and violent, even toward their
parents? A follow-up question brackets these queries: is it better to start
by asking whether family breakdown is an outcome of a economy that requires
parents to work long hours, thereby reducing the time available for bonding
(and supervision) and increasing the likelihood of (1) the need for daycare,
(2) higher stress levels in the home, and (3) subsequent family violence.
Finally, we have the question as to whether fining parents is a realistic
way of resolving these problems.

As I sit here, I can't off the top of my head think of an awful lot of
anthropological work on these issues specifically. Related issues, maybe.
For example, anthropologists have for years written on the supposed
vulnerabilities of the American family in a modernizing society. An
excellent summary can be found in Christopher Lasch's book, _Haven in a
heartless world: The family besieged_. New York: Basic Books. 1977. In
these earlier works, the main focus seems to have been on the effects on the
family of the loss of the father to an alien workplace. This may relate
tangentially to the issue of day care (having lost dad, are we now losing mom
to the daily grind, as well). I don't think you'll find much in the way of
models and testing here, however.

David Schneider and R. Smith (in Class differences and sex roles in American
kinship and family structure. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pretice-Hall. 1973) take
a slightly different approach. They argue that the forces of late capitalism
are endangering both lower-class and middle-class American families, but in
different ways. Middle-class family forms -- usually thought to be the ideal
by virtue of their stability, affluence, and achievement orientation -- in
fact run the risk of becoming *over-rationalized* by the same production mode
that warps the poor. Already resembling corporate structures in their
relative self-sufficiency and self-containment ("atomization"), middle-class
families are on the verge of becoming indistinguishable from other businesses
-- once the "pure" kinship elements of love and solidarity are squeezed out
of them. Talk about chilling out! In Schneider's and Smith's view, the
happy medium seems to lie in a melding of what stands out in lower-class
family relations (their diffuse solidarity) with the best in middle-class
forms (their adaptability, their relative freedom from old ways, and their
drive to succeed). But to achieve this synthesis, the authors argue, the
middle-class must shake its heavy attachment to the profit motive and promote
a broader notion of the public good.

But is the family cited in Read's newspaper article in a position to so
"meld," even if it wanted to? The economic context is very different now
compared with 1973, when Schneider's and Smith's book was written. If
anything, the family in question resembles a corporation on the rocks. Over
extended, beset by absenteeism and "labor-management" problems, pumping out
negative externalities (polluting the neighborhood with crime). Looks to me
like they're about to downsize. How many middle-class American families
today fit this profile? The _NY Times_ series on the downsizing of America
provides some interesting data in this regard.

The larger idea that Schneider and Smith were driving at was that the
"economy" was reshaping "kinship" in the symbolic system of American culture.
The point I'm adding here is that if American families come to resemble
corporations in some ways in good times, would they not also resemble them in
bad times? How indeed these ideas be modelled and tested is an interesting

Let me switch gears entirely here and address the whole issue at another
symbolic level. It comes down to this: aren't we asking in these posts *who
is a (or the) victim, who is the victimizer, and what is the process of
victimization*? As we read these newspaper articles, aren't we wondering:
who is the real victim?, who the victimizer?, and *what is really driving
this mess?* Could this mode of thinking itself be itself a problem?

I'll try to return to this a little later. I think it's critical to
understanding the spirit of the times. Arguably, victimization is both a
reality and a master symbol in American culture, one that can be used, or
misused, to a variety of ends.

Unfortunately, right now I've got to head to the office.

Mike Cahill