I have spent most of July working on a project and the end is now in sight. At 155 slides, the deck is still too large, but I have a couple of days to weed and winnow. (If I owe you an email or phone call, expect something soon.)
As always happens on a project like this, I am an anthropologist at large, wandering around American culture, surrounded by great bodies of ethnographic knowledge and the certain knowledge that this knowledge is being ignored by my academic colleagues. They are too pure, too proud, actually to study their own culture.
One of the things that leapt out at me on this project was how much of the social world of my respondents is organized by "kidship." Kidship is the social connection established between adults by the relationship that exists between their children. For dwellers of the suburb, a very large part of the people we know is determined by the connections our kids forge witlessly on our behalf. Our child plays soccer? We are going to know a lot of soccer moms and pops.
We may take this as some measure of the American devotion to parenthood, and I am sure it has always been thus. But it is also true that now that the American corporation churns so, fewer friends come from work. People are still moving often, so connections that come from one’s locality are difficult to come by, except of course as fashioned by our kids. Kinship, the real thing, is of course a special challenge. Relatives are spread across the country, and gettogethers at Thanksgiving appear sometimes to designed expressly to demonstrate what a good thing this distance is.
Kidship has certain graphite quality to its sociality. There is also an easy familiarity between parents. As plenitude creates new diversity in the American social world, people can rely apon parenting to supply common interests and ready topics of conversation. It is not entirely different from dogship, that extraordinarily robust sociality that seems to spring up between dog owners in the local park. Americans who might not speak to one another for any other reason, who might labor to find something interesting or civil to say, discover that as a fellow dog owner, their neighbor is really very charming after all. Kidship has the advantage of being something still more urgent, child rearing an art and science that perpetuates its difficulty as American culture rolls bumpily on.
This was not the topic of my study, so I caught a glimpse of it only in passing. But the details were tantalizing. For example, parents tend to make better friends with the parents of older children. And this means that the younger a child in a family the harder it is to arrange a playdate.
Is this being studied by anyone? Probably not. Anthropologists are too busy pondering the moral, political and epistemological reasons why anthropology is impossible. Oh, splendid. Just splendid.
Pictured: a Mexican family, um, looking in a tree. Oaxaca 2007. That’s Sara Winge in the center background.