Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stomp, Girl! Stomp!

Another delightful anecdote from my sister about my niece, now six:

She was given a box of 4,500 wildflower seeds by a friend, which we planted this weekend. After putting them on the ground, the instructions said to walk on the seeds to push them into the earth, over an area of about 100 square feet.

An hour later, she's still tip-toeing through the tulips (so to speak) because a) she has tiny feet and b) she believes she, I don't know, needs to sneak up on the seeds by walking very slowly and silently.

Stomp, Girl! Stomp!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Ministry Can Adapt to Returning Moms Better Than Other Professions Can

All working mothers juggle work and family. For professionals the problem is usually worse. Professionals normally work longer hours than wage-workers or most white-collar workers. Professions that directly provide service to clients can be particularly demanding, both in expecting long hours and in being available to clients at odd hours. Many moms trained for professions are not practicing at all at any given moment. Some drop out and never come back. One study found that only 7% of mothers aged 25-49 with children under the age of 18 work more than 49 hours per week outside of the home. 50+ hours per week is normal for professionals.

Moms in ministry face the same kinds of challenges that other professional-career mothers do. In some respects, ministry is worse, because most women pastors work alone or with very few colleagues, so it is difficult to share the load when family duties make unexpected demands. On the other hand, pastors have more control of their hours than most professionals do, so in principle their jobs could be more flexible about motherhood.

More than any other profession, the ministry has gotten used to the idea of second-career pastors. Seminaries and hiring committees are used to seeing middle-aged adults, often married and with kids, starting their careers, even just starting their professional schooling. This poses some problems for churches, and especially for seminaries. Still, they have learned to cope, and to see some advantages of fully mature grown-ups entering the profession.

I see a further opportunity in the fact that the ministry is used to gray-headed beginners: the pastorate should be an easier career for mothers with older children to return to after a child-rearing break.

If we are ever to really adapt the professions to motherhood, we have to institutionalize easier off-ramps and on-ramps. The ministry has already developed the late on-ramps for late-bloomers. Now we can explicitly incorporate these same late-start career structures to minister moms, so that they, and their families, can have a saner life.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Are Aesthetes the Same as Other Members of the Knowledge Class?

Is taste a kind of knowledge like other kinds of knowledge? More exactly, are people who make their living from their taste members of the knowledge class, as people who make their living from more cognitive kinds of knowledge are members of the knowledge class?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

George W. Bush, Flower of the Upper Class - Sort of

I have been working through E. Digby Baltzell's substantial body of work on the sociology of America's upper class. His great books were published 30 to 50 years ago, using material from earlier eras. Some have said that the old WASP upper class was done in by the Sixties. In many ways this is true -- the monied elite was already very ethnically diverse when Baltzell was writing, and since then the happy process of intermarriage and assimilation of new money into old money has moved the upper class far from the WASP bastion it was in, say, 1940. And a good thing, too.

As I read about the old WASP upper class, I have been thinking about who their contemporary remainders are. Which brings us naturally to George W. Bush.

George Bush the younger has the WASPiest pedigree of any prominent political figure today. Andover and Yale. Skull and Bones. His dad was Andover and Yale, and Skull and Bones. His grandfather was St. George's and Yale, and Skull and Bones. Did I mention that that sequence is also President, President, Senator? But there is plenty more. His grandfather was a founding partner of Brown Brothers Harriman. The Walker Cup golf trophy is named for his great-grandfather, from whom George gets his "W." His mom, daughter of the McCalls and Redbook publisher, of President Franklin Pierce's family, product of a northern country day school and a southern boarding school, dropped out of Smith to marry her naval aviator. And his brothers. And his kids. On and on.

And yet ...

Baltzell makes the point that the old WASP upper class was primarily a business aristocracy. The Bushes do keep coming back to business -- banking, then oil. George W. has a Harvard MBA, though that degree was regarded as a comedown by the old business elite. His administration has certainly been business friendly, and largely hands-off about everything else (we may debate the business significance of the Iraq war).

Still, in important ways George W. Bush resisted the Old Money prep school curriculum. George H. W. Bush so exemplified the WASP ideal - sports at Andover, volunteer naval pilot in the war, Bonesman at Yale, business entrepreneur, Congress, CIA, Republican Party, Episcopal Church, loyal Vice-President, President - that a former staffer, Richard Brookhiser, wrote The Way of the WASP: How it Made America, and How it Can Save It, So to Speak about the 41st president.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, did the whole Old Money curriculum, but grudgingly. Where the father was a baseball star at Andover, the son was "stickball commissioner." Where his father volunteered for military service and was shot down, the son used his pull to avoid overseas service, and skipped half of his U.S. obligations. The father was Yale all the way. The son was a reluctant student in college -- the football players used him as the standard of whether a course was easy -- and had to be talked into Skull and Bones. He was an indifferent businessman, a reluctant politician, a "Bushican" more than a Republican, a Methodist.

On the other hand, George W. Bush is a real Texan in a way that his father never was. He clearly likes working on the ranch more than affairs of state. His greatest success outside of politics was as cheerleader and frontman for the Texas Rangers baseball team. I think history will judge him a greater success as Governor of Texas than as President of the United States.

I think I understand President Bush's famous smirk. It means "you can make me go through the motions of this role, but you can't change me inside." I expect he had that look the first day he had to leave Texas for boarding school, and he will have it until he can leave the White House and go back, at long last, to Texas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Is the Upper Class the One Class-for-Itself?

Marx spent his life trying to get the working class to see itself as a real social group with a common destiny. In his terms, they were a class-in-itself, an objective social unit. They were hampered from acting together to advance their common interest, though, because they were divided by a dozen other identities. The workers of the world were not united because they didn't have a class consciousness. The working class was a class-in-itself, but not a class-for-itself.

Peter Laslett was a great British demographer who wrote The World We Have Lost, the definitive quantitative study of late medieval society. There he argued that in late medieval and early modern society, the aristocracy -- that infinitesimal slice of the top of the social structure -- was the only group in society with a class consciousness. Everyone else lived in such a tiny social world that their consciousness only extended to the limits of people they knew personally. He went so far as to call the world we have lost a "one-class" society, since no one else but the aristocrats were a class-for-themselves.

I mention all this because E. Digby Baltzell, whose work I wrote about yesterday, makes an interestingly parallel argument. In Philadelphia Gentleman, he notes that the community studies that were so prominent in mid-20th century sociology -- especially Middletown, the Yankee City studies, and the Elmtown studies -- erred in seeing each class as a class-for-itself. Such studies found that people knew which side of the tracks you were from, and never let you really cross them. Ambitious young people from the lower classes often left town to advance.

The error, Baltzell says, is that these studies took small cities as representative of national class cultures as a whole. Muncie, IN (Middletown), Newburyport, MA (Yankee City), and New Haven, CT (Elmtown) did have a ruling class whose members knew one another and were tied to one another in a dozen ways. The same was true, more of less, of the several classes below the top in these small cities. In a big city like Philadelphia, though, the upper class likewise knew one another and were connected in a dozen ways. But the several fractions of the middle class, and the many fractions of the working class, and the endless fragments of the poor were not unified, not tied together by many interwoven social ties. This was why ambitious rising men and women of the small cities moved to the big city - no one knew which side of the tracks they came from, or really cared.

In Philadelphia, only the upper class could be a class-for-itself.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Knowledge Class Social Register

This month I am working my way through the writings of one of my favorite sociologists, E. Digby Baltzell. In all of his work, Baltzell argued that a nation is best led when its elite of individuals is molded into a socially responsible "establishment" by a well-functioning upper class of families.

In his first book, Philadelphia Gentleman: The Making of a National Upper Class, Baltzell explores the overlap between the elite and the upper class. To find the elite of the day he turned to Who's Who. To find the upper class, he turned to The Social Register. A crucial question for him is how much overlap there is between the two - that is, what proportion of the elite who run things now come from the intermarried descendants of elites who ran things before. The answer in 1940, the critical year of his book is about 25%.

My concern is with the knowledge class, the class of people who make their living from control of the knowledge necessary to run the social system. Many knowledge class people are in the elite, and thus in Who's Who. This got me to wondering, though: could there be a Social Register for the knowledge class?

There are two obstacles to making a knowledge class social register. One is that there just isn't much of a market for it. The descendants of various monied families make social institutions that bring them together, help them intermarry, and form a social class with a real organic unity. Thus the value of a social register, sometimes called "the stud book" for the upper class. In the knowledge class, though, there is not the same call to keep "old books" families together in the way that there is for "old money" families.

The second is that the knowledge class does not expect that it can produce a distinctive class and way of life by "breeding" (in the sense of nurture), the way the settled upper class does. Most knowledge class individuals rise through a meritocracy that selects an elite. They do not expect that their families will remain in the knowledge elite over generations.

I think this last point is an empirical question well worth pursuing. And if, in fact, significant portions of the knowledge class do keep turning up in the elite generation after generation, then perhaps there could be a market for a Knowledge Class Social Register.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Well" in the Black Church

I was reading Jonathan Rieder's very interesting account of Martin Luther King's different kinds of rhetoric, The Word of the Lord is Upon Me. One nice feature of the book is that when he quotes portions of King's recorded sermons, Rieder includes the responses and interjections from the congregation. Rieder comments on several of these, including one I had not paid attention to before: "Well." Rieder notes that this word can carry many meanings, depending on its inflection, from "well said" to "it it is well with my soul" to "well, what do you mean?"

This morning I was listening to a recording of Tony Campolo's sermon for Bill Clinton's second inauguration. Much of his sermon turned on the rich expressive style of his black church which Campolo, who is white, was explaining to a predominantly white audience. He, too, talked about the importance of "Well" as a key congregational response to his preaching. He added a nuance that Rieder had not explored: that it is the women who say "well."

I don't know if Campolo was just making a rhetorical flourish, of if he was reporting a general sociological fact. Informed comment would be most welcome.