"Frustrated by the fact that most texts on women treated 'the man's world' as the given and then simply asked where and how women fitted in," Stephanie Coontz writes, "I decided to undertake a survey of American gender roles: that was the starting point of the present book" — The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600–1900, published by Verso in 1988.
Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, c. 1863-65. via Wikimedia Commons.
As the focus of her research shifted from "woman's private sphere" to the family as a larger arena in which the public and private intersect, Coontz became more attentive to the diversity of household arrangements across time and space. "Stimulated by the burgeoning research into family history," she writes, "I began to look at the family as a culture's way of coordinating personal reproduction with social reproduction — as the socially sanctioned place where male and female reproductive activities condition and are conditioned by the other activities into which human beings enter as they perpetuate a particular kind of society, or try to construct a new one."
Continued from part I.
Detail from Francis William Edmonds' The New Bonnet (1858).
The Limits of Structural and Demographic Analysis
Although it is important to compare demographic trends and household structures and seek their economic correlates, such procedures yield only limited information about the history of families. Olga Linares points out: “Qualitative changes in the meaning of interpersonal obligations may be as important in distinguishing among household types as more easily measured changes in size and form.” Indeed, as Barrington Moore Jr has commented, tabulating structural differences “necessarily involves ignoring all differences except the one being measured.” Changes in social relations and patterns are not “reducible to any quantitative differences; they are incommensurable. Yet it is precisely such differences that matter most to human beings.”47
November 9th is marked in history as the date on which triumphant Berliners breached the Berlin wall. On this day, 27 years ago, crowds began to demolish the Wall and gathered on both sides of the historic crossings to cheer the bulldozers. This was the first critical step towards reunification, which formally concluded nearly a year later, on 3 October 1990.
Tariq Ali’s novel Fear of Mirrors follows East German dissident Vlady Meyer’s life as it mirrors the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The book is available now, and is one of Verso’s Russian Revolution centenary picks. With the fall of Communism, Vlady’s life begins to fall apart; he is a mirror reflecting the intellectual milieu of an incomparable period. Extracted below is the first page of the novel to commemorate this momentous day in history.