On “Boxing In”–Pictures, Children, and Identity

HNA7078r1+ToyStories_Jacket_edit1203.inddPhotographer Gabriele Galimberti’s project on children around the world depicted with their most prized possessions was recently published. It’s an adorable set of photos of children with odd collections of items they feel define them. The photos are collected in a volume—Toy Stories: Photos of Children From Around the World and Their Favorite Things.

Initially, I was reminded of JeungMee Yoon’s “The Pink and Blue Project” (here), where she took pictures of girls surrounded by all of the pink things they owned and boys surrounded by their blue clothes, toys, and décor. Some of what struck me was the global uniformity in the objects surrounding children. It’s a powerful statement of globalization to see that children are growing up all around the world with some of the same cultural influences: from characters, to colors, to cars and weapons, and more.

Enea, 3, Boulder, Colorado.But, at a larger level, I think this project reflects one way we like to think about identity: that each of us has one of them and that it is established early on and that it (or elements of “it”) stick, such that we can recognize vestiges of our childhood identities in our adult selves. Indeed, when I’m explaining Freud to students, I often start by summarizing what I take as Freud’s central insight—“Life history matters.” It matters for who we are, who we might become, and more.  But, “life history” is rarely captured in snap-shots.  We think of it this way–but out identities are projects that unfold in time.  Some things make larger marks than others, but identifying exactly what is important and why is often more difficult than we like to think.

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Goodnight Moon – The Story of a Lost Room

I’ve read Goodnight Moon to my son over 300 times now. So, I feel I can speak with renewed confidence when telling students about the benefits, joys, and new frustrations than come from re-reading a text.

Goodnight Moon is a simple enough story. My son isn’t yet old enough to begin to play the game that parents have recognized at least since Margaret Wise Brown wrote this book. The game is “delaying bedtime,” and it’s a classic! If the clocks depicted in the images are correct, the bunny in the story is able to successfully delay bedtime from 7:00 to about 8:10 (though the moon’s descent into the night sky provides a shorter time table). That’s not bad, particularly considering he’s being “hushed” by an “old lady” the whole time.

There are a number of oddities throughout the book that the repeat reader will find difficult to ignore. More thorough analyses of the text have explored these in greater detail. Beyond the depiction of a different colored set of curtains on the cover (red and green) than appear throughout the book (yellow and green), however, the room itself is a bit strange by modern standards. For starters, the room is enormous! If you consider the number of objects it holds, combined with the amount of space between them, the room must be gigantic. This is part of what makes this story magical.

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Book Review–“Punished” and “Hidden Truth”

I just finished two books in anticipation of assigning one in my “Sociology of Men and Masculinities” course next semester: Victor Rios’ (2011) Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys and Adam Reich’s (2010) Hidden Truth: Young Men Navigating Lives In and Out of Juvenile Prison.  Both deal broadly with masculinity, youth, race, class, inequality in urban spaces, and criminalization and incarceration.  I talked about the books recently with a colleague who suggested that both offer a glimpse into what might have happened next in the lives of Ann Arnet Ferguson’s “bad boys.”

Ferguson’s book is so powerful because she manages to show how those who are there to help these young African-American boys in school (teachers, principals, school staff) often play an unintentional, but integral role in reproducing inequality.  Rios and Reich illustrate the ways in which it is not only schools that play this role in young, lower-class, and often non-white boys’ lives.  The spaces in which they work, play, live and learn are shaped by structures and discourses of “punishment” that constrain these boys’ likely futures, but simultaneously provide the seeds of enabling the critical thinking necessary to move beyond them.  Both authors show, in different ways, how young boys navigate hostile social spaces that might claim to be designed to help them stay off the “wrong path,” but also seem to systematically make finding a “right path” all the more challenging.

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The Gender of Life at and in the Family Home in the Twenty-first Century

During a five year period (2001-2005), a group of physical and cultural anthropologists along with an ethnographic photographer (Jeanne E. Arnold, Anthony P. Graesch, Enzo Ragazzini, and Elinor Ochs) undertook an in-depth study of contemporary family life as a part of the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families.  Some of their findings are published in a short book—Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open their Doors.  The book itself is a dizzying array of information, beautifully depicted in ways that illustrate the rhythms of household life, transformations in social interactions between family members that may not have been anticipated by the architects who designed the homes they live in, the massive collections of stuff that American families collect and consume, and new data helping to understand both how members of the household understand their homes, how they use them, and how they feel inside of them.

The study itself is not generalizable for a number of reasons.  For one, the sample size is only 32 families.  All of the families self-identify as “middle class” (a problematic measure), representing a broad range of neighborhoods in southern California, including a range of ethnic and racial groups, with various occupations.  Most of the families were heterosexual, but two of the families were not.  As the authors put it:

Each family that joined the study consists of two parents who both work full time (or close to it), and two or three children, one of whom is 7-12 years old.  We sought families that were negotiating the many challenges associated with having both parents in the workforce while they were raising young children. (17)

The data collected is the really interesting part of this study.  In addition to interviews with family members, video documentation of their homes, photographs and counts of all of the objects and rooms in the homes, site visits at various points throughout the day, house history questionnaires, detailed architectural floor plans of the homes (included maps of when and how various rooms and spaces were used during the study), the team also had each family use a video camera alone and provide a self-guided tour through their home describing the various rooms as they deemed fit.

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Bachelor…ETTE Pads?

If you take a look at the changes in family living arrangements since the 1970s, a few things seem to jump off the graph.  First, you can’t help but miss the drop in the proportion of married couples with children households (a percentage almost halved in just under 40 years).  What’s more interesting, however, are the family forms (defined by the Census as “nonfamily households” – which has the feel of a pointed term) that have picked up those stray percentage points.

Living arrangements that fall into the categories that the Census designates as “family households” really don’t show enormous change aside from the huge decline in married couples with children.  A great deal of attention has been paid to the “other nonfamily households” as interest in cohabitation and it’s alleged effects are heavily scrutinized.  The other categories (women living alone and men living alone) receive a bit less attention, but together, all three categories account for a great deal of the decline in married couple with children households.

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Review: Where Men Hide

Alright, so this is a bit of an essentialist text, but the images are amazing.  The book is the result of a collaboration between James Twitchell (an English and advertising professor at the University of Florida) and Ken Ross (a photographer).  Professor Twitchell happened upon an article that mentioned a recent showing of Ross’ photography as he was waiting to get his hair cut.  Ken’s undertaking was a collection of photographs from spaces occupied primarily by men.  He called the show “Men’s Rooms.”  So, Ross shot dens, masonic lodges, boxing gyms, old bowling alleys, bars, hunting lodges, barber shops, and more (read more here; see some of the shots here).

James Twitchell teamed up with Ken, asked him to take a few more shots of some spaces he thought might add to the collection, and writes short cultural histories of the spaces documented in Ross’ photography.  Twitchell explains their significance to the men that occupy them and also historicizes the cultural forces that have pulled men away from these homosocial man dens of old.

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