News Release: Arts and Humanities, Events, Religion and Ethics

Nov. 11,  2010

Future of American Families Focus of Research Conference

Despite a stalled economy and the increasing stress and pressure of daily life, American families are resilient and adaptable, say Emory University scholars who are wrapping up a decade of research on family life.

The Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL) is hosting an international conference Nov. 11 and 12 at Emory to discuss findings and look forward. "Imagine That! The Future of the American Family," is free and open to the public.

Keynote speakers are Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, who writes a syndicated national column; and Lynn Spigel of Northwestern University, an expert on the impact of TV in everyday life. Her books include "Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America," "Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs" and "TV By Design: Modern Art and the Rise of Network Television."

Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, also will participate.

During the two-day conference, scholars will address the following:

  • How families view themselves in historical perspective
  • Family routine, ritual, celebration
  • How families manage time and activity coordination
  • Family life in the context of media and technology
  • Historical perspectives on the family's future

MARIAL Center Director Bradd Shore, an anthropologist, is optimistic about how families are evolving. "Our research suggests that while the family is experiencing pressures or challenges due to the increasing entry of mothers into full-time work, as well as dramatic changes in communication and information technology, the American family is managing to adapt successfully to its new conditions."

More than 50 research projects were funded at the MARIAL Center by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Among the key findings:

  • Families that eat dinner together often have adolescents who fare better on multiple measures.
  • Family stories are critical to the well being and psychological resilience of children.
  • Rituals, such as birthdays, weddings and family reunions keep families together in an increasingly dislocated and complex society.

As children grow up and leave home, holidays and landmark rituals, such as birthdays, wedding and family reunions, become even more important in family life. "Routines and rituals provide anchor points for a sense of family stability and continuity," Shore says.

"Since the late 19th century, stories in the popular media have proposed that the American family was falling apart, due to changes in work patterns, and changing gender roles," Shore says. "But the American family has proven to be resilient through these changes."

Rapid changes in technology and media have had a paradoxical effect on families, Shore notes. It's easier for family members to keep in touch, but the same cell phones and computers also increase isolation and fragmentation.

Conference Schedule

Thursday, Nov. 11, Jones Room, 3rd floor, Woodruff Library

9:30-10 a.m.
Welcome and Introductions: Harald Welzer, Bradd Shore 

10 a.m.-Noon
Panel I: THE FUTURE IN LIGHT OF THE PAST
• Kathryn Yount (Moderator), Graham Allan (Keele University), Stephanie Coontz (Evergreen State University), Harald Welzer (KWI and CMR).

Noon-1 p.m.
Lunch (on your own)

1-3 p.m.
Panel II: THE FAMILY IN TIME: SCHEDULING, ROUTINE
• Carla Freeman (Moderator), Jason DeCaro (University of Alabama), John Robinson (University of Maryland),  Charles Darrah (San Jose State University).

3-3:15 p.m.
Break

3:15-4:45 p.m.
Keynote Address, Judith Martin (Miss Manners)

Friday, Nov. 12, Jones Room, 3rd floor, Woodruff Library

9-11 a.m.     
Panel III: FAMILY, NARRATIVE, MEMORY
• Marshall Duke (Moderator), Barbara Fiese (University of Illinois), Lesley A. Bleakney (MARIAL), Jens Kroh (KWI & CMR), Sophie Neuenkirch (University of Luxembourg), Isabel Heinemann (University of Muenster).

11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Panel IV: RITUAL, CELEBRATION, FAMILY
• Bradd Shore (Moderator), Mark Auslander (Brandeis University), Elizabeth Pleck (University of Illinois), Peter Stromberg (University of Tulsa).

1-2 p.m.
Lunch (on your own)

2-3:30 p.m.
Keynote Address, Lynn Spigel (Northwestern University)

3:30-3:45 p.m.
Break

3:34-5:45 p.m.
Panel V: MEDIA, TECHNOLOGY, FAMILY
Amy Aidman (Moderator), Stewart Hoover (University of Colorado), Arthur Asa Berger (San Francisco State University), Maggie Jackson (journalist/author). 

5:45-6 p.m.
Closing Comments by Harald Welzer and Bradd Shore

Originally published on Oct. 28, 2010

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