Brockport Sociology

“Clouding Research” – A Word Cloud with Elliot Weininger

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This is the first in a new series of posts from the Sociology Department at The College at Brockport–“Clouding Research.”  The goal is to allow faculty a brief space to explain some of the findings of their recent writing and research.  We first make a word cloud out of a recent paper or article and use that as a tool to ask them some interesting questions about their work.  This post considers Elliot Weininger‘s recent article with Annette Lareau, “Paradoxical Pathways: An Ethnographic Extension of Kohn’s Findings on Class and Childrearing.”

Professor Weininger‘s research focuses on issues of education, family, and issues of contemporary race, class, and gender inequality.  This particular project focuses on class differences in parenting practices.  This is a topic that’s received some important research, and Professor Weininger’s work builds on this work by considering the different types of data available by studying the issue in more than one way.

1. Kohn’s name appears prominently in the word cloud.  What are Kohn’s findings and how does your work relate?

Some 50 years ago, Melvin Kohn famously argued that people’s experiences in the arena of work have powerful effects on their psychological orientations.  In particular, he presented evidence supporting his claim that the experience of either self-direction (i.e. independence) or conformity on the job directly affect people’s childrearing values: individuals who have a significant amount of decision-making authority and discretion in their work, for example, will be much more likely to want their children to develop a capacity for independent decision-making; conversely, those who are closely supervised and expected to follow orders in their jobs will be much more likely to want their children develop a sense of obedience and deference towards legitimate adult authority.  Simply put, the type of work environment you’re subject to affects the kind of kids you want have.

(See here if you’re interested in reading some of Kohn’s early work on the topic.)

2. A couple of the words seem to be methodological (e.g., interviews, observation, participation).  How did these methods ask new questions of this popular topic?

Most of the research in this area has entailed the statistical analysis of survey data.  While this type of analysis has numerous strengths, it can be a bit of a blunt instrument.  So we instead used ethnographic data (collected through observations and interviews).  This enabled us to look at how parents attempt to actually implement their childrearing values or commitments–something that survey data is generally not so good for.

3. “Activities” really stands out here.  What role do activities play in your findings?

Time-use studies show that children in middle-class families spend substantially more of their free time participating in organized extracurricular activities than their counterparts from working-class or poor families.  Our data suggests that this involvement in organized activities is, in part, an aspect of their parents’ attempts to implement their commitment to self-direction–that is, the parents see it as a way to build their kids’ sense of independence and autonomy. 

4. The word “paradox” shows up in the title of the paper and in the word cloud.  What is the paradox you address in this paper?

Perhaps ironically, middle-class parents often end up trying to implement their commitment to fostering their kids’ independence by the use of directives and other forms of adult control (the opposite, in other words, of what they want the children to achieve).  Conversely, working-class and poor parents, while generally expecting their kids to defer to adult authority, are perfectly happy to grant them wide swathes of leisure time in which they free to pursue self-initiated activities, make their own decisions, and exercise their own initiative.

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Interested in learning more?

Check out Professor Weininger’s article here and let us know what you think in the comments.

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