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Feeling and Meaning in Socialization for Work

April Leininger

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 13


Numerous social theories link macro social structural forces with the institution of the family by positing family interaction as a proximal mechanism of social reproduction, but relatively few studies of interaction itself are available in the work-family literature. A classic anthropological contribution to such a project, the Children of Six Cultures study (Whiting and Whiting 1975), offers one model for how to examine the relations between macro-level socioeconomic structure and situated activity. However, while the Whitings’ theory included psychological elements such as values, needs, and drives, the Six Cultures Study employed a coding scheme that conflated subjectivity and interaction. The present paper draws on this anthropological tradition’s focus on family interaction as a fundamental unit of analysis, but supplements the social and behavioral emphasis of this work with an exploration of the felt meanings that help constitute social interaction. Borrowing the interpretive techniques of person-centered ethnography (e.g. Hollan 2001), this paper analyzes an emotionally-charged episode that begins with a mutually affectionate reunion between mother and daughter, but in which the mother moves out of this affectionate state, partially withdrawing her affection in order to gently, firmly cultivate her daughter’s guilt. Such an analysis of moment-to-moment interpersonal experience sets the stage for the assessment of the hypothesis that the socialization for work in post-industrial society involves the cultivation of extreme conscientiousness (Paul 1996, p. 15) resting on a foundation of “greater and more explicit emotional intensity” between parent and child (Parsons and White 1961, p. 215).

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