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The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600-1900

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A highly original account of the evolution of the family unit Current debates about the future of the family are often based on serious misconceptions about its past. Arguing that there is no biologically mandated or universally functional family form, Stephanie Coontz traces the complexity and variety of family arrangements in American history, from Native American kin gr A highly original account of the evolution of the family unit Current debates about the future of the family are often based on serious misconceptions about its past. Arguing that there is no biologically mandated or universally functional family form, Stephanie Coontz traces the complexity and variety of family arrangements in American history, from Native American kin groups to the emergence of the dominant middle-class family ideal in the 1890s. Surveying and synthesizing a vast range of previous scholarship, as well as engaging more particular studies of family life from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Coontz offers a highly original account of the shifting structure and function of American families. Her account challenges standard interpretations of the early hegemony of middle-class privacy and “affective individualism,” pointing to the rich tradition of alternative family behaviors among various ethnic and socioeconomic groups in America, and arguing that even middle-class families went through several transformations in the course of the nineteenth centure. The present dominant family form, grounded in close interpersonal relations and premised on domestic consumption of mass-produced household goods has arisen, Coontz argues, from a long and complex series of changing political and economic conjunctures, as well as from the destruction or incorporation of several alternative family systems. A clear conception of American capitalism’s combined and uneven development is therefore essential if we are to understand the history of the family as a key social and economic unit. Lucid and detailed, The Social Origins of Private Life is likely to become the standard history of its subject.


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A highly original account of the evolution of the family unit Current debates about the future of the family are often based on serious misconceptions about its past. Arguing that there is no biologically mandated or universally functional family form, Stephanie Coontz traces the complexity and variety of family arrangements in American history, from Native American kin gr A highly original account of the evolution of the family unit Current debates about the future of the family are often based on serious misconceptions about its past. Arguing that there is no biologically mandated or universally functional family form, Stephanie Coontz traces the complexity and variety of family arrangements in American history, from Native American kin groups to the emergence of the dominant middle-class family ideal in the 1890s. Surveying and synthesizing a vast range of previous scholarship, as well as engaging more particular studies of family life from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Coontz offers a highly original account of the shifting structure and function of American families. Her account challenges standard interpretations of the early hegemony of middle-class privacy and “affective individualism,” pointing to the rich tradition of alternative family behaviors among various ethnic and socioeconomic groups in America, and arguing that even middle-class families went through several transformations in the course of the nineteenth centure. The present dominant family form, grounded in close interpersonal relations and premised on domestic consumption of mass-produced household goods has arisen, Coontz argues, from a long and complex series of changing political and economic conjunctures, as well as from the destruction or incorporation of several alternative family systems. A clear conception of American capitalism’s combined and uneven development is therefore essential if we are to understand the history of the family as a key social and economic unit. Lucid and detailed, The Social Origins of Private Life is likely to become the standard history of its subject.

52 review for The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600-1900

  1. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wood

    Coontz produces another useful social history. This one explores how the conventions of private life and the expectations of domesticity were created in the 19th century, culminating in the 1870's-1890's. Coontz does a good job of both spelling out cross-class and racial commonalities in this formation, and more significantly exploring the differences in those structures and the reasons that the concepts of domesticity were taken up. It also explores the contradictions contained within these for Coontz produces another useful social history. This one explores how the conventions of private life and the expectations of domesticity were created in the 19th century, culminating in the 1870's-1890's. Coontz does a good job of both spelling out cross-class and racial commonalities in this formation, and more significantly exploring the differences in those structures and the reasons that the concepts of domesticity were taken up. It also explores the contradictions contained within these formations, and the reason for their eventual transformation.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    This is required reading for a seminar I am currently taking. The book was interesting, but I would have liked it better if the text was split into two books. There was too much information packed into one textbook. I did enjoy learning about the structures of families from the colonial age to the twentieth century.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Private lives, but only for the Americas. No. Not that. Only the US. No. Not that. White US. Yet the title is "the social origins of private life". Cute. Private lives, but only for the Americas. No. Not that. Only the US. No. Not that. White US. Yet the title is "the social origins of private life". Cute.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Detora

  6. 5 out of 5

    Esther | lifebyesther

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kate O'connor

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  9. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sean Dempsey

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike Murashige

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dianna

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline Antonovich

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian Watson

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Anne

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charles

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Rindfleisch

  20. 5 out of 5

    David

  21. 5 out of 5

    Donoberloh

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicolas W Rogers

  24. 5 out of 5

    Clare Coughlin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Riva

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  28. 5 out of 5

    Denise

  29. 5 out of 5

    Coliwasa

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erendira

  31. 5 out of 5

    Chalen Kelly

  32. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Payne Jones

  33. 4 out of 5

    BookDB

  34. 4 out of 5

    PKN2 GoodReads

  35. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

  36. 4 out of 5

    Becky

  37. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Payne Jones

  38. 4 out of 5

    Becca

  39. 4 out of 5

    Vena

  40. 5 out of 5

    Anita Smith

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  42. 4 out of 5

    Danita

  43. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  44. 4 out of 5

    Karin

  45. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  46. 4 out of 5

    Vern

  47. 5 out of 5

    Spider the Doof Warrior

  48. 4 out of 5

    Diana

  49. 4 out of 5

    Becky

  50. 4 out of 5

    Eugenia

  51. 4 out of 5

    Angela

  52. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Gee

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