The Fractured Family


By Carol Mithers

Published Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM

When an interdisciplinary team of UCLA faculty and graduate students began a study of 32 Los Angeles households nearly five years ago, they scrutinized their subjects as if the family members were a newly discovered pack of exotic animals.

The work was done for the university's Center on the Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), one of six similar projects sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It meant excruciatingly detailed observation of the subjects, all middle-class, dual-income families. Moms, dads and their school-age kids were videotaped for several months from the moment they woke until they left for work or school, then again later in the day, until the kids' bedtime. Everything was fair game for interpretation —meals, errands, interactions with the world and each other. Even the families’ homes were studied, mapped and measured, with families shooting their own video tours; up to 1,000 photos were taken of rooms, furniture and "artifacts."

The approach is not as farfetched as it may seem at first blush. After all, says Elinor Ochs, CELF director and UCLA professor of anthropology, "We can tell a lot about beavers by looking at the dams they build."

The question to be answered here was basic: How was this particular pack of two-legged animals doing? With both parents working "and working a lot," says Ochs, "how do families manage?"



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