Meadow and Stacey 2006

Meadow and Stacey 2006 - keywords tey meadow and judith...

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55 fall 2006 contexts Contexts, Vol. 5, Issue 4, pp. 55-57, ISSN 1536-5042, electronic ISSN 1537-6052. © 2006 by the American Sociological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, at families keywords tey meadow and judith stacey A ccording to the town of Black Jack, Missouri, Fondray Loving, Olivia Shelltrack, and their three children are not a family. The couple has lived together for 13 years and are raising their own two children as well as at-home-mom Olivia’s daughter from a previous relationship. They eat meals together, display vacation pho- tos on their refrigerator, and attend PTA meetings. However, when they went to city hall to secure a certificate of occu- pancy for the house they purchased in this St. Louis suburb, they learned that their new town prohibits more than three people from sharing a residence if they are not related by blood, marriage, or adoption. Because Shelltrack and Loving have chosen not to marry, they do not qualify as a family under their local housing laws. Most people can identify the members of their family, but what defines “the family” depends on who is doing the defining. From policymakers who regard families as units for administrative purposes like distributing health care and determining ownership of property, to cultural critics who bemoan or celebrate what they view as the decline of the nuclear family, to entertainment executives who capitalize on our seemingly limitless fascination with diverse domes- tic relationships, the question of what counts as a family today is hotly contested across a range of political issues. Though many of these issues appear to have ancient pedi- grees, it turns out that “the family” is a fairly recent histor- ical innovation. The Oxford English Dictionary locates the entry of the word family into the English language as late as the 15th century, when it was used to denote the servants of a household. It has since been used to designate a wide range of collectives: the retinue of a nobleman, the staff of a high- ranking military officer or state official, groups of individuals or nations bound together by religious or political ties, even members of local units of the Mafia. Only during the Victorian era did our present common meaning of family— an intimate set of people related by blood, law, and senti- ment, and particularly a married woman and man and their children—come to dominate. Ask the average person, and you might also hear that families are sites of love and care, or sometimes of violence, abuse, and deprivation. Feminist anthropologists Jane Collier and Sylvia Yanagisako make a point of identifying the family as an ideology rather than an institution, one that prescribes norms for domestic arrange- ments that change over time, but more slowly than the eco- nomic and social conditions that undergird them. As the word family has evolved in its usage, so too have
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Meadow and Stacey 2006 - keywords tey meadow and judith...

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