Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reproduction of Mothering, End

I got halfway through Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering, and gave up.

Reading the metaphysics of Freudian psychoanalysis is like reading the witch lore of the Trobriand Islanders. I respect it as a rich and intricate culture, but I don't think it actually describes the world I live in.

In my Macrosociological Theory syllabus, I am going to swap it out for The Feminine Mystique.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reproduction of Mothering 1

I am working through Nancy Chodorow's feminist classic The Reproduction of Mothering for my social theory class. She is trying to come up with an account of how girls learn to be mothers from the way they are mothered. She is trying to discover a psychoanalytic cause for girls wanting to mother.

To get there, she rejects a social-learning account as too simplistic, and a biological account as inconclusive.

Chodorow is trying to establish that women do not have to be mothers, and mothering - the primary nurturing of children - does not have to be done by women. I think she, and the brand of feminism she represents, has won this argument.

However, I was puzzled by the way that she dismissed the biological basis for connecting mothers and mothering. She allowed that there was a strong connection between female hormones and nurturing, and male hormones and aggression. This does not entail that only mothers can mother, but it seems to me to support that argument that women as a group are more prepared by their biology for nurturing, especially nurturing little ones. I believe biological research has moved on quite a bit since this book was published in 1978, supporting the idea that men and women do differ in profound ways that affect how they rear children.

I will read the rest of her argument with an open mind. I think her premise, though, that mothering is not much rooted in biology, is shaky.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not Built for Vacations

Mrs. G. and I have been taking a vacation. This is only the fourth time since child #1 was born more than two decades ago that we have tried a just-the-two-of-us vacation.

Last Sunday we dropped child #3 off at camp. We have spent much of a week since then visiting Annapolis, dipping our toes in the ocean, traipsing Williamsburg, enjoying Charlottesville. We have visited lovely places, talked to locals, eaten good food, and, of course, enjoyed an array of independent coffee houses.

We have also fit in some visits with relatives, some professional conversations, and spent some hours each day reading and writing, assisted by the internet. This morning we sit in a fine local coffee house, Calvino's, in Charlottesville. I like Charlottesville. I realize, though, that I really appreciate it because, amidst the lovely, I have some work to do here. Just sitting in Charlottesville, or any place, would be enervating to me.

Mrs. G and I work every day. But I don't think we are workaholics. I think we do not need to draw a big distinction between work and the rest of life - especially not between work and play - because our work is not alienated - we do not simply sell it to another. We are very blessed in having such work. We also made a choice not to take the path where more of our work would be alienated, even if it paid more. Mrs. G is a Yale lawyer - she could have taken the path to quite high-paying, but alienated, work.

We are doubly blessed that our family life and our work are well integrated. This is also partly choice, and partly providence.

Work/life balance and alienated labor are two of the most important personal issues that sociologists have worked on in the past two generations. We are blessed to suffer from neither.

Which means that for the Gruntleds, the concept of a vacation does not really work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nationalizing Williamsburg

Mrs. G and I have been visiting Colonial Williamsburg and its neighbor, the College of William and Mary.

I think of the Old Dominion, home of the First Families of Virginia, as worshiping all of its ancestors. I now see, though, that much of the retrieval of colonial Virginia has been a twentieth-century project to give Virginia a usable past that is not confined to the Confederacy. Doing so required re-envisioning early Virginia as part of national history - and getting nationalists from the Empire State involved in paying for it.

The capital of the Virginia colony had a Governor's Palace at the center, with an approaching green. On the street perpendicular to this axis grew up a place for representatives of the citizens to meet, and a school for gentlemen. When the seat of government was moved to Richmond in 1780, Williamsburg became a backwater. The College of William and Mary, after a brave beginning, foundered. By the end of the Civil War the notable colonial buildings of Williamsburg were ruins. The town grew over the old stuff. The Lost Cause became the only history that mattered.

For Williamsburg the change began with Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church at the end of the 19th century. Bruton Parish Church is the Episcopal - and before that, Anglican - church that served the colonial capital. It is located at the corner where the long axis from legislature to school intersects the short axis from the governor's palace. Goodwin was a Virginian and the son of a Confederate veteran. But he also was the priest of a national church. In his first stint at Bruton Parish, and as a teacher at William and Mary, he rebuilt the church. Then he served a church in New York. When he came back to Bruton Parish and to William and Mary, he saw the further decay of the old historical structures of the Old Dominion, the history before the Confederacy. This moved him to undertake a more ambitious plan of restoration.

To rebuild colonial Williamsburg, Goodwin did not get help from Virginia money, from the tobacco magnates and government contractors. He turned to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller with a vision of reviving Williamsburg as a national treasure. The William and Mary professor also cleverly got the "Christopher Wren building," the shell of the founding building of the college, included in Rockefeller's vision of "Colonial Williamsburg." The Rockefellers quietly bought up most of the old part of town. When they announced their intention to restore the colonial city in 1928, there was more consternation than delight. More than 700 buildings were demolished. The three major public buildings were largely gone - they had to be rebuilt from drawings and verbal descriptions. Colonial Williamsburg was not so much restored as re-invented.

A key moment in the drama came when the Yankees wanted to move the Confederate monument from the Palace Green in front of the colonial Governor's Palace. That led the locals to sue. This incident, it seems to me, reveals the core dynamic of what was at stake in reclaiming colonial Williamsburg for the nation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Corporate Style Is Reassuring

Do you find brand names reassuring, or oppressive?

I have been thinking about the cultural difference between the two ends of the educated middle class, which I call for short-hand the corporate class and the knowledge class.

Like other members of the knowledge class, I favor independent over corporate in most things. I write this from an independent coffee house, which I would always pick over, say, Starbucks. As I travel and see the same national and international brands everywhere, I often think of the quip "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chain stores."

And yet most people like corporate brands - otherwise they wouldn't be the dominant form.

I was thinking of this as I toured the U.S. Naval Academy. The military needs to be uniform and highly organized for good functional reasons. Yet the U.S. Navy is also a brand. It is a brand that is reassuring - as the very best militarily, of course, but also as reliable and orderly.

As I came out of the Naval Academy I saw a bumper sticker for a large state university. I realized the appeal is similar - Large State U is a well-known, reliable brand. If you go there, you get a decent education. Beyond that, though, you get to belong to the alumni association. You are part of a reliable brand.

I have a hypothesis, which I have not yet tested empirically. I think the core of the corporate class style appeals to the average white collar employees of large corporations, who are also alumni of large name universities, and patrons of large consumer brands. What they have in common is that they are likely to be new to the middle class. The brand name everything is reassuring of your middle-class status.

The knowledge class style, by contrast, appeals to groups who are more senior in the middle class, who have an unshakable, unreflective security in their own middle-class status.

I do not offer either as superior. I do notice that the two styles seem to appeal to different kinds of people. I am trying to figure out what makes the two groups different.

Monday, July 12, 2010

City Dock Coffee

The City Dock Coffee House is a treasure of a third place in Annapolis, MD.

This morning I enjoyed talking to the regulars, gathered around the bench marked "Sen. John Astle's 'down the hill office.'" The coffee house, on the dock in Annapolis, is a few blocks from the state capitol. The regulars told me of the long-standing group, gathered around the local state senator and noted storyteller. They get together daily to solve the world's problems. The old guys, led by Chuck, were jolly and joshing. Unusually, the regulars also included some women, who the men introduced as the brains of the group.

The owner, Grover Gedney, sat on the high stools with me for a time. He helpfully described the business, which has grown into a local institution. They supply coffee to the Naval Academy and the Governor's Office, as well as many local restaurants. And as coffeemen and coffeewomen have done for centuries, he paused to greet the regulars as they came in, and welcome the arriving staff.

City Dock Coffee is a classic third place that keeps its identity in the middle of a heavy tourist destination. May it thrive.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Presbyterian Losses and Gay Ordination

The General Assembly confirmed that after 43 straight years of declining membership, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is now less than half the size it was at its peak in 1967. The pace of losses has actually picked up in the last few years, as entire conservative congregations have left, in addition to the normal negative ratio of new members to deaths.

This General Assembly also passed another attempt to change church rules to say that, contrary to what the Bible appears to say, homosexual practice is not a sin, or at least not enough of a sin to prevent ordination. The last three times such a proposal was passed by the General Assembly and sent to the church as a whole for a vote, it failed.

I do not know whether the liberalizing measure will pass this time. I do know that each time the General Assembly attempts to liberalize the constitution this way, more conservatives give up on the PC(USA) and leave.

At some point, so many conservatives will have left that the liberal constitutional amendment will pass.

I don't think this victory will stabilize the denomination, though. Liberals are pretty bad and having and holding kids in the church, and even worse at evangelizing. Whichever way this particular fight turns out, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is likely to keep dwindling.