The American Family

The American Family : Across the Class Divide

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'Yasushi Watanabe has achieved a sympathetic yet trenchant analysis of the American boast of having achieved a happy fusion of individualism with democracy.' Michael Herzfeld, Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University 'A Harvard-educated Japanese anthropologist takes a fresh look at two communities that are undergoing similar fragmentation: the lower-middle-class Irish of South Boston, and the descendents of the upper-class Boston Brahmins. He deftly contrasts the transformation of their respective collective identities and helps us understand how the two groups now interpret their history and traditions. Thus, we understand better the restructuring that American class cultures have undergone in recent decades. This illuminating book will be particularly useful in courses on inequality, community, and culture in the United States.' Michele Lamont, Professor of Sociology, Harvard Universityf 'A fascinating look inside the lives of Boston's elite and working class families. Only a stranger's eyes could discern the cultural contours of resignation and hope that social change has visited on the descendants of the Boston's Brahmins and Irish immigrants...A magnificent contribution to our understanding of social change and class culture, seen from the inside of his subjects' lives. ' Katherine Newman, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University 'Watanabe has managed to cast new light on this important topic by his superb ethnography of ...the contemporary descendants of Brahmin lineages and the sorts of local culture and influence that they have engendered...Watanabe has provided insights and material that will be indispensable to American studies in the broadest terms.' George E. Marcus, Professor of Anthropology, Rice University White, middle-class Americans are one of the most understudied groups in the anthropology of the United States - perhaps because of their hegemonic presence in society. This book offers the first ethnography of 'white middle-class America' from a non-native perspective. Yasushi Watanabe, a Japanese anthropologist, examines two social groups in the Boston area to reveal an intimate portrait of the 'American' family. These two groups are at opposite ends of the social spectrum in terms of religious, ethnic and class backgrounds, and in terms of cultural tastes and lifestyles. The first group is upper-middle class, Anglo Saxon, Protestant, mostly Unitarian or Episcopalian - often identified as archetypical middle-class America. This is a wealthy group that includes descendants of the 'Boston Brahmins', one of America's oldest aristocratic families, closely related to Democratic hopeful John Kerry. The second group is working-class or lower middle-class, Irish Catholic, often referred to as 'Boston Irish'. Informed by a wide range of social theory, The American Family is a fascinating study of family dynamics in modern America that explores how Americans construct their social realities and cultural histories, and how modern society shapes their lived experience.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 139.7 x 215.9 x 22.9mm | 408.24g
  • PLUTO PRESS
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New
  • 0745315577
  • 9780745315577

Review quote

A Harvard-educated Japanese anthropologist takes a fresh look at two communities that are undergoing similar fragmentation through individuation and diversification: the lower-middle class Irish of South Boston, and the descendants of the upper class Boston Brahmins. He deftly contrasts the transformation of their respective collective identities and help us understand how the two groups now interpret their history and traditions. Thus, we understand better the restructuring that American class cultures have undergone in recent decades. This illuminating book will be particularly useful in courses on inequality, community, and culture in the United States. -- Michele Lamont, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University This volume is a fascinating look inside the lives of Boston's elite and working class families. Only a stranger's eyes could discern the cultural contours of resignation and hope that social change has visited on the descendants of the Boston's Brahmins and Irish immigrants. Watanabe shows us how patterns of mobility and inter-marriage have shifted the ground underneath these segments of American society. From him we learn about the reconfiguration of family solidarity, the impulse to break from tradition, and the role of social policy - especially taxation on large estates - in reshaping the elites. We are also privy to the ambivalence that surrounds the declining influence of Catholic tradition and the strains that accompany upward mobility as the descendants of Irish maids and blue collar workers take their place in the suburban middle class. It is a magnficent contribution to our understanding of social change and class culture, seen from the inside of his subjects' lives. -- Katherine Newman, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University Yasushi Watanabe, following Tocqueville's critical pursuit of the freedom trail in Boston and in the United States at large, has achieved a sympathetic yet trenchant and often regretful analysis of the American boast of having achieved a happy fusion of individualism with democracy. Working from his own empirical work with the apparently polar opposites of 'Brahmin' and Irish cultures in Boston, this American-trained Japanese scholar brings a culturally rich vision to bear on the progressive flattening of hierarchy and the blunting of rigid social, cultural, and racial exclusiveness in law and discourse in the neoliberal age. He shows how the practices that these changes have engendered too often leave human beings adrift in an increasingly incomprehensible modernity, further than ever from realizing social or economic justice for themselves or for others. Refusing both false clairvoyance and simplistic polemics, he nonetheless succeeds in showing how these two communities' trajectories -- at once, paradoxically, both parallel and convergent -- together frame a persistent danger: the obsessively moralistic romanticism that has violently reinstated parochial 'family values' at the very core of an enormous and unabashedly powerful polity and that would willingly impose these values on the world at large. -- Michael Herzfeld, Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University The world of Boston Brahmins and their impact on American culture has been visited many times by historians and sociologists of the family. But Watanabe has managed to cast new light on this important topic by his superb ethnography of the recent history and latter-day fates of the contemporary descendants of Brahmin lineages and the sorts of local culture and influence that they have engendered. With not just foreign, but cosmopolitian, curiosity concerning an ingrown sector of American culture that has had immense influence in the shaping of aspirant middle-classes, Watanabe has provided insights and material that will be indispensable to American studies in the broadest terms. -- George E. Marcus, Professor of Anthropology, Rice Universityshow more

About Yasushi Watanabe

Yasushi Watanabe is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Information and the Graduate School of Media and Governance at Keio University, Japan. He has been a Senior Associate of St Antony's College, Oxford University and a Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in Social Anthropology.show more

Table of contents

1: Introduction 2: The Yankee Family 3: The Irish Family 4: Conclusion Notes Bibliography Indexshow more

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