This news week provided many opportunities to explore the concept of “opportunity structures” as discussed by Furstenberg. Especially in applying the basic definition that,
“Opportunity structures, made up of multiple and overlapping environments shaped by social position, are not accurately apprehended by individuals from different vantage points in the social system. They can only be understood by examining simultaneously what families see and respond to in their familiar settings, what they do not see but can be seen by other observers, and— most difficult of all— seeing what is not there.” (Furstenberg 2006:288).
Last week’s focus on the birth-rate among unmarried women challenged the notion that social reproduction, and biological reproduction, is not engaged in evenly across different social groups. The rise in non-marital child births shows how bearing children is important for women, but so is marriage; and being a spouse/domestic partner/or other legally sanctioned committed relation to the baby’s father is not a necessary prerequisite for being a parent. As society changes, and new generations grow up (historical contingency), new norms, filters and constraints emerge.
There is more to the scenario than parenthood and marital status. Social class, race, and gender – as social constructions – have much to do with opportunities across families and communities. This is a “place-based” cultural capital, or the redundant patterns of influences from the family, school, community.
Furstenberg contends than there is a complex interplay between the family, schools, and communities that generate a “diverging development” between children of different social classes, races, and genders. Often time, these divergences go unseen – or unknown – by people from different settings.
Building on Furstenberg, Hays introduces the concept of “intensive mothering” to describe the lengths at which mothers adopt and incorporate ideals of motherhood into their daily lives. Focusing on mothers who balance the demands of the home and the workplace, Hays writes that “intensive mothering” techniques are,
“implicitly or explicitly, understood as the proper approach to the raising of a child by the majority of mothers…the dominant ideology of socially appropriate child rearing in the contemporary United States.” (p. 151)
Two example’s from the week’s news shows perfectly how diverging development and intensive mothering can manifest. First, the website Sociological Images posted a report by the parenting resource website, Babble.com which ranked the Top 100 mothering blogs of 2011. While seemingly harmless, the top 100 list is, according to Babble, the best of the best,
“…drawing not only the recommendations of our panel, but also paying close attention to…all of [our readers] to help us hear of the up-and-comers, the new debuts, and any other great blogger that isn’t already on our radar.”
It is, in essence, the top blogs as determined by experts and the general readership; which generated the critical contribution to Sociological Images. By simply looking at these mom blogs,
“…reveals some other interesting issues related to social privilege and motherhood. In addition to the lack of racial diversity, the blogs included in the list show very little variation in terms of class, sexuality, age, and marital status. (The blogs were chosen by a panel of “experts” that took into consideration nominations from Babble readers, so it’s unclear how representative they are of mom blogs in general.)”
What is more, the privilege to access and use such blogs is in and of itself the ability to access a certain community – the digital community – and then have the savvy to navigate its contours for needed information. The Sociological Images critique goes on,
“While there is the more obvious privilege of the “digital divide,” or the disparate access that people have to technology and the internet, there is also privilege in having the spare time to devote to intensive writing/blogging and the connections necessarily to draw sponsorship and advertising.”
Juxtapose this with recent happenings within the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). According to a state law in Illinois, CPS was mandated to hold open and interactive meetings with the public when drafting and implementing school reforms, including the closing of public schools. The final CPS agreement on school reform, reached recently and passed by the Board of Education, created a much different form of parental involvement in education. Rather than building an interactive web-based system of support, parent groups came together in public to protest the lack of parent involvement and agency in the school-closing decisions.
The head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, Karen Lewis stated that, the relationship between the parents, the community, and the schools, is strained:
“Part of the problem we have is establishing the kinds of relationships that are required for students to succeed,” Lewis said. But, she added, “when you have an agenda, nothing stands in your way.”
Like the critique from Sociological Images of the mom blogs, an opinion piece offered another view by taking each of these players to task,
“It would be good if the board and the mayor remember larger realities…like poverty, early education, stronger support for families and insisting on more social responsibility from all, be they poor, middle class or wealthy…Education reform alone can’t solve the problems that adults, acting like children, tend to sweep under the rug.”
Both of these examples show the complex interplay of the family (and who speaks for the family), the community (and how community is defined and accessed), and education (for whom, by whom, and with whom). But most of all, they show a perspective from differing points of view and ideologies on how parents raise children in much different ways, through many different conditions, and with diverging sets of resources.
And once again, in the end, social reproduction functions to ensure the normative social formation. I wonder if there is a parenting blog written by inner-city mothers on how to advocate for your child’s poverty-stricken neighborhood school, just as I wonder how many of the blogging parents, as an effort in intensive parenting, have to occupy school board meetings simply for recognition of their rights…