Saturday, September 19, 2009

Structured Structure

I have been writing about Bourdieu lately, which means that I have to type phrases like "a structured structure and a structuring structure" often.

I noticed a peculiar, deep-in-the-word-geek-woods pleasure: typing the word structure is fun. It makes an interesting circular pattern in the left hand, especially in the index finger.

If you like that sort of thing, try it a few times. Structure structure structured structuring structure. Oh, and structuration (but that is Giddens and not as much fun to type).

If this is not your kind of thing, just move on. Nothing to see here. (structure structure structure).

Friday, September 18, 2009

No, Secularism Is Not Saving Marriage

Oliver Thomas' religion column in USA Today, "Is secularism saving marriage," is mostly wrongheaded.

Thomas' premise is that marriage should have disappeared in postmodern America, since it is so confining and patriarchal and permanent. Marriage seems to be coming back. How do we explain this mystery, Thomas asks? It must be that men have learned to be more egalitarian and intimate from secular society. Secularism helps people delay marriage without delaying sex, which is healthy. Thus, secularism is saving marriage from religion.

No. Religious people have longer and stronger marriages. Grownups of all kinds, religious and otherwise, know that the greatest social value of marriage is not the intimacy it fosters between adults, but the permanent team it creates between them to raise children. Religious marriages are, on average, more intimate and more mutual. Religious people are more likely to get married in their mid-twenties, the optimal time, rather than delaying for their careers until they are so set in their single ways that it is hard to make a permanent team. The secular emphasis on getting my individual way in all things undermines marriage.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Permissive Families Breed Spontaneous Kids, Authoritarian Families Breed Directed Kids

Some parents are highly supportive of their children, some are highly challenging, some are both, and some are neither. This nifty four-fold division was used by Kevin Rathunde, continuing work of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, to look at how much some talented high school students were involved in their school-related activities. They had students wear pagers through a school week, beeping them several times a day to record what they were doing and how they felt about it.

The researchers were looking for highly engaging "flow" experiences. The students' responses were turned into a -.4 to +.4 scale, with the boring experiences at the -.4 end and the flow experiences at the +.4 end. They also had separate averages for the students' spontaneous activities and their directed activities

Rathunde then compared the average responses of the kids from each of the four kinds of families. The kids from the high support/high challenge families reported the highest average score - almost .35 - for both spontaneous and directed activities. The kids from the other three kinds of families all had average scores at or below zero for both kinds of activities.

What is most interesting to me, though, are the differences in the latter three families in which kinds of school-related activities, spontaneous or directed, went with which kinds of families. Kids from low support/low challenge families reported average scores a little below zero on both spontaneous and directed activities. This is a far cry from the high/high group, but, on the whole, they net out higher than the remaining two. These kids are on their own as far as their families go, so they make their own way with middlin' results.

Kids from high support/low challenge families (what Diana Baumrind, in a similar scheme, calls permissive families) are more satisfied with their spontaneous activities than their directed ones - about -.1 vs -.3. The low support/high challenge families (Baumrind's authoritarians) report the reverse: much higher satisfaction with directed activities (0) than spontaneous (-.4). This mixed finding from the mixed families is in the direction that I expected. I was surprised, though, at how much the permissive kids liked spontaneity and how much the authoritarian kids like direction.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Global Problem of the Color Line

We have been reading W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk in our social theory class. Du Bois famously said, at the dawn of the previous century, "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.”

I had not fully realized until this reading that he did not just mean that the color line is the main problem of the twentieth century in the United States, but rather, that this is the global problem of the century.

Later in the book he writes “the characteristic of our age is the contact of European civilization with the world's undeveloped peoples.” When we think about the world in 1900, almost the entire globe was directly ruled by European countries or their colonial heirs. The Europeans and their transplants operated on an explicitly racial theory which held that the white race(s) developed the world. The "undeveloped" peoples were those on the other side of the color line globally.

In the second half of the twentieth century Du Bois' prophecy came true with striking clarity all over the world. We are still working through the aftermath of ending racist and imperialist theories that justified European domination. The problem of the color line is far from over in the global clash of civilizations. But the theory that justified the color line has been subverted.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Dad's Job is Like Matters More to Kids Than What Mom's Job is Like

I am working with students on the 500 Families study, which surveyed middle-class, dual-career couples on work-family balance. One paper from this study, by Ariel Kalil, Judith Levine, and Kathleen Ziol-Guest, looked at what might make teen boys and girls want to have jobs like their mothers' and fathers' jobs. How much the jobs paid, and how much the parents talked about their work with their kids were not significant factors in whether teens wanted jobs like their parents'. And boys and girls were not very different from one another in their response to their parents, though girls were somewhat more likely to want a job like mom's. For both boys and girls, dad's job seemed more attractive.

Teens, like everyone else, are more attracted to jobs with complex work and freedom to do it. Quite a few of the mothers and fathers in the study had work like that. The surprising finding was this:

When fathers hold jobs that are substantively complex and when they report having higher levels of autonomy at work, adolescents express a greater interest in having a job like their fathers’. Interestingly, these relationships do not apply to interest in having a job like their mothers’.

The authors are not sure why teens are differently attracted to their parents' work in this way, and neither am I. Here is my guess, though. For most mothers, motherhood is the most salient part of their identity to children (and probably to the mothers themselves); mom's job is important, but secondary. For fathers, though, their work is very salient to their being fathers, because how they support their family is a vital part of their identity as fathers. The kids pick up on this, so the qualities of their fathers' jobs are more salient to the children than are the qualities of their mothers' jobs.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Marriage Makes Women More Conservative; Motherhood Makes Them More Liberal

Marriage makes men and women more conservative. Fatherhood also makes men more conservative. But political scientists Steven Greene and Laurel Elder found that mothers were more liberal than non-mothers on war questions. This is true even though those same women are likely to have been more conservative than single women when they first got married.

Far from producing "Security Moms" who vote for the most hawkish candidates to protect their babies, mothers seem to desire to avoid war and protect their own babies from fighting them.

(I thank Steven Greene for generously sharing this paper with me.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ditch the Lectionary

My church uses the Common Lectionary, a selection of readings from the Bible that work through the whole text, pretty much, every three years. Each week we have an Old Testament selection, a New Testament selection from the gospels, and a New Testament selection from the other NT books. The pastor normally incorporates one of these selections into the sermon.

I appreciate the intent of the lectionary. Using a lectionary makes certain that the preacher will not just stick to a few favorite texts, but will have to read, and perhaps preach on, the entire Bible.

Still, as a way of actually teaching the Bible, I think the lectionary is a failure. Three unconnected snippets each week are too short and too many to follow. Since, in my experience, it is a rare preacher who tries to integrate all three each week, most of the readings are not developed at all. And even if the preacher does follow one section - the gospel, most likely - for several weeks, it is very hard to hold on to the thread of preaching. Usually, the sequences of sermons are not connected with one another, and often only loosely connected with the text.

I think we would be better off preaching the Word the way the Reformers did: work through a book, or a theme, thoroughly. This does not mean that today's events and concerns could not be incorporated - on the contrary, nearly all of the Bible ties readily to today. But I, as a listener and student, would rather hear one sustained argument for a season that really explicated and connected a text.

The lectionary, it seems to me, makes most of our Scripture reading in the service into a magical act of just saying the words and hoping they have some effect.