You are on page 1of 9

An Anthropological Approach to Family Studies

Author(s): Oscar Lewis


Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 55, No. 5 (Mar., 1950), pp. 468-475
Published by: University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2772103
Accessed: 18-01-2016 23:11 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/
info/about/policies/terms.jsp

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

University of Chicago Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Journal of
Sociology.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACH TO FAMILY STUDIES*
OSCAR LEWIS

ABSTRACT
The anthropological approachto familystudiesis definedin termsofintensivecase studiesoffamiliesas
functioning wholes,utilizingall the conceptualcategoriesand methodsgenerallyemployedin studiesof the
total culture.Familycase studiesofthistypeare particularlyusefulforproblemsin the fieldof cultureand
personality.They providea level of descriptionintermediatebetweenthe conceptualextremesof the indi-
vidual at one pole and the cultureat the other,therebyavoidingthe highlevel ofabstractionand generaliza-
tionofculturalanalysisin whichindividualsas real humanbeingsmaybe ignored.Studies made in Tepotoz-
lan, Mexico, are cited as a demonstrationof the method.

The fieldof familystudiesis one which ity. This involveda broad ethnographic
has becomeidentified withsociologists rath- studyofthe community, an analysisofthe
erthananthropologists, and evenamongso- manychangeswhichhad occurredin thevil-
ciologists it is sometimesviewedas thehigh- lage since I926, a comparisonof the total
ly specializedfieldof practicalproblemsin impression of Tepoztlanas revealedby our
appliedsociologyratherthanthemoregen- two studies,and, finally,a studyofTepoz-
eral and theoreticaltreatmentof cultural tecansas individualsand as a people.
dynamics.One mightask, therefore, just At the outsettherewas the problemof
what can anthropology contributeto this method.Tepoztlanis a large and complex
field,since anthropologists have, in fact, villagewitha populationof approximately
neglectedthe fieldof familystudies.How- 3,500withsevenbarriosor localitygroup-
ever, on the basis of my own experience ings,generation and wealthdifferences,and
withfamilystudiesin ruralareas in Mexico a rapidlychangingculture.The traditional
and Cuba, I believethat anthropology can anthropological relianceupon a fewinform-
makea distinctive contribution by utilizing ants to obtaina pictureof the cultureand
the familyapproachas a techniqueforthe the people, thoughperhaps feasiblein a
study of cultureand personality.In this small,primitive,tribalsociety,was inade-
paper I describean anthropologicalap- quate to thissituation.The questionofsam-
proachto familystudiesand the contribu- plingand of securingdata and informants
tionofsuchan approachforat leasttwoim- representative differ-
of all the significant
portant methodologicalproblemsin an- ences in the village was just as pertinent
thropology and othersocial sciences,name- hereas in a studyof a modernurbancom-
ly,howto arriveat a morereliableand ob- munity.Sampling and quantitativepro-
jectivestatementoftheculturepatternsof ceduresweretherefore employedwherever
a givensocietyand obtaina betterunder- possible,as werecensusdata, local govern-
standingoftherelationship betweenculture mentrecordsand documents, schedules,and
and theindividual. questionnaires.
The fieldworkupon whichthispaper is But how could we best studythe indi-
based was done in the Mexican village of vidual and understandhis relationshipto
Tepoztlan.It will be recalledthat Robert theculture?How mightwe revealthegreat
RedfieldstudiedTepoztlanin I926. Seven- varietyof practicesand the rangeof indi-
teenyearslater,in I943, I returnedto the vidualdifferences to be foundinsucha com-
villageto do a studyofcultureand personal- plex village? How might we understand
*This paper was read at the Midwest Socio-
Tepoztecans in all of theirindividuality?
logical Societymeetings,April29, I949, in Madison, Again,thoughwe came preparedwiththe
Wisconsin. traditionalanthropologicaltechniquesas
468

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AN ANTHROPOLOGICALAPPROACHTO FAMILY STUDIES 469
wellas withsomeofthepsychologist's, such ilies representative of the different socio-
as theRorschachand otherprojectivetests, economiclevels,as wellas differences infam-
something morewas needed,and we turned ilysize,composition, and degreeofaccultur-
to the studyof the family.We hopedthat ation.However,we foundthattherewas a
the intensivestudyof representative fam- greaterwillingness amongthe better-to-do
ilies, in whichthe entirefamilywould be and moreacculturatedfamilieson our list
studiedas a functioning unit,mightgiveus to haveoneofthestafflivewiththem.Some
greaterinsightintoboththecultureand the of the selectedpoorer familiesexpressed
people.Familystudiestherefore becameone willingness to accepta studentbut wereun-
oftheorganizing principlesin theentirere- able to do so becauseofcrowdedlivingcon-
search. ditions.
The firstproblemwas how to selectthe We werenowreadyto beginto accumu-
familiesto be studied.The firstfewweeks late a greatvarietyofinformation on every
werespentin analyzinga local population familyin the village. Each assistantwas
censusofthevillagetakena yearbeforeour made responsible forgathering the data in
arrival.The census data were reorganized hisbarrio.In thethreesmallerbarrios,none
first ona barriobasis.The sevenbarrioswere ofwhichhad overfortyfamilies, it was pos-
still,as in I926, themostimportant locality sible to get a fewinformants who knewof
groupings.Barriolists weredrawnup and thefamiliestherequiteintimately. In these
each familyand householdwas assigneda smallerbarriospracticallyany male adult
numberwhichthereafter was usedto identi- knowswho does or does not own land or
fythefamily.In additionalphabeticallists otherproperty. In thelargerbarriosno sin-
ofbothsexesweredrawnup in each barrio gleinformant waswellacquaintedwithmore
withthe corresponding numberaftereach thana smallpercentageof thefamiliesand
name.In thisway we wereable to identify we therefore had to use manymoreinform-
all individualsin the village in respectto ants. In effectwe were doinga censusin
barrioand familymembership. each barriowith the numberof itemsin-
As a preliminaryto selectingfamilies vestigatedprogressively increasingas our
whichwouldbe representative ofthevarious rapportimprovedand as we feltfreeto ask
socioeconomicgroupingsin the village for morequestions.
specialstudy,severalinformants wereasked Amongthe itemsof information which
to rankthefamiliesin ecah barrioaccording we eventuallyobtainedby surveyforeach
to relativewealthand social position.The familywere(i) ownership ofproperty, such
criteriaused in thistentativeclassification as house, land, cattle and otheranimals,
wereitemswhichseemedimportant in this fruittrees,and sewingmachines;(2) occupa-
peasantcommunity, namely,theownership tion and sources of income; (3) marital
of a house,land, and cattle. Thus we ob- status,numberofmarriages, barriooforigin
taineda roughidea oftherelativestanding or otherbirthplaceof each spouse,kinship
ofall thefamilies ofthevillage.On thisbasis relationsof all personslivingon the same
threefamilies,representing different socio- housesite; (4) socialparticipationand posi-
economiclevelsweretentatively selectedfor tionsofleadership;(5) educationalleveland
studyin each ofthesevenbarrios. whetheror not any of the childrenhad at-
At thispoint,afterI had beenin thevil- tended school outside the village. These
lage forabout a month,studentassistants itemswere supplemented by a numberof
fromthe Universityof Mexico began to partialsurveyson otheritems;we also uti-
come into the village one at a time.Soon lized and checkedmuchof the information
thereweresix assistantsforeach of whom containedin thepopulationcensusof I940.
arrangements weremade to live witha se- In additionto thissurveyofthevillageas
lectedfamilyin a different barrio.An effort a whole,each assistantstudiedtheindivid-
was madeto place theseassistantswithfam- ual familywithwhichhe was living.The

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
470 THE AMERICAN JOURNALOF SOCIOLOGY
familywas treatedas ifit werethesociety. and generally themethodology has beenofa
We learnedthatmostofthecategoriestra- statisticalnaturewithemphasisupon large
ditionallyused in describing an entirecul- numbersof cases supplementedby inter-
turecould be used effectively in the study views and questionnaires.Despite all the
of a singlefamily.Thus, we obtaineddata emphasisin the textbookson thefamilyas
on thesocial,economic, religious, and politi- an integrated whole,thereis littlepublished
cal lifeofeach ofthefamiliesobserved.We materialin whichthe familyis studiedas
studiedthe divisionoflabor,sourcesof in- that.3
come,standardofliving,literacy,and edu- If the sociologicalstudiesof the family
cation.An area ofspecialconcentration was have tendedto be ofthesegmental, specific
the studyof interpersonal relationswithin problemtype,the workof the anthropolo-
thefamilybetweenhusbandand wife,par- gisthas been of the oppositekind,that is,
ents and children,brothersand sisters,as generalized descriptionwithlittleorno sense
well as relationswiththe extendedfamily of problem.In most anthropological com-
and with nonrelatives.In addition each munitystudiesthe familyis presentedas a
memberof the familywas studiedindivid- stereotype. We are toldnotabouta particu-
ually. lar familybut about familylifein general
We applied to the singlefamilyall the underheadingssuch as composition,resi-
techniquestraditionallyused by the an- dence rules,descent rules,kinshipobliga-
thropologist in the studyof an entirecul- tions, parental authority,marriageforms
ture-livingwiththe family,beinga par- and regulations, separation,and so on. And
ticipant-observer, interviewing, collecting always the emphasisis upon the presenta-
autobiographies and case histories, and ad- tionof the structural and formalaspectsof
ministering Rorschachand otherpsychologi- thefamilyratherthanuponthecontentand
cal tests.A longand detailedguidewas pre- varietyof actual familylife. Anthropolo-
paredfortheobserving and recording ofbe- gistshavedevelopedno specialmethodology
havior.Seven familieswerestudiedin this for familystudies and to my knowledge
intensivemanner.'Each familystudyruns thereis not a singlepublishedstudyin the
to about 250 typedpages. entireanthropological literatureofa family
How does this approachcomparewith as a unit.
otherapproaches?Certainlythefamilycase Despiteall thathas beenwritten and the
studyis notin itselfa newtechnique.2 It has considerable progresswhichhas beenmade,
been used by social workers,sociologists, I believethatit is stilla challengeto anthro-
psychologists,psychiatrists, and others;but pologyand the othersocial sciencesto de-
their studies invariably have centered vise new and bettermethodsforstudying
around some special problem:familiesin therelationship betweentheindividualand
trouble,familiesin thedepression, theprob- his culture.Most monographs on so-called
lem childin the family,familyinstability, "primitive"or "folk" culturesgive an un-
divorce,and a hundredand one othersub- dulymechanicaland staticpictureofthere-
jects. These mightbe characterized on the
lationshipbetweenthe individualand his
whole as segmentedstudiesin whichone culture:individualstend to becomeinsub-
particularaspectoffamilylifeis considered, stantialand passiveautomatonswho carry
'Two of these familystudies will be published out expectedbehaviorpatterns.For all the
in my forthcoming book on Tepoztlin. pronouncements intheoreticaltreatiseslittle
2
ProfessorThomas D. Eliot commentsthat Le
Play used thefamilyas a unitofresearch.However, 3ProfessorEliot's commentat a meetingof the
thetraditionwhichhe began has not beencontinued American Sociological Society in December, I924,
by Americansociologists.I understandfromProfes- still applies today. He said, "Each feelsand inter-
sor Florian Znanieckithat he and his studentsdid pretsonly the small part of the problemwithwhich
familystudiesin Poland somewhatsimilarto those he is in directcontact,and thinkshe is describing
describedhere. the whole."

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACH TO FAMILY STUDIES 471

of the interaction betweencultureand the verbalizationsand memoryrather than


individualemergesin the monographs. In- upon directobservationby the trainedob-
deed,as theoretical conceptsin thestudyof server.Furthermore, autobiographiesgive
culturehave increasedand ourlevelofgen- us a pictureofa cultureas seenthroughthe
eralizationand abstractionhas been raised, eyesofa singleperson.
we have cometo deal moreand morewith Intensivefamilycase studiesmighthelp
averagesand stereotypes ratherthan with us to bridgethegap betweentheconceptual
realpeoplein all theirindividuality. It is a extremesofthecultureat one pole and the
raremonograph whichgivesthe readerthe individualat the other.The familywould
satisfying feelingof knowingthe people in thusbecomethemiddletermin theculture-
thewayhe knowsthemafterreadinga good individualequation. It would provideus
novel. Malinowski,manyyears ago in his withanotherlevel of description.And be-
famousprefaceto the Argonauts of thePa- cause thefamilyunitis smalland manage-
cific,wroteof anthropological monographs able, it can be describedwithoutresortto
as follows:". . . we are givenan excellent the abstractionand generalizationwhich
skeletonso to speak,of the tribalconstitu- one mustinevitablyuse forthecultureas a
tion,but it lacks fleshand blood. We learn whole.Likewise,in the descriptionof the
muchabout the framework of theirsociety variousfamilymembers we see real individ-
but withinit we cannotconceiveor imagine uals as theylive and worktogetherin their
the realitiesof humanlife... ."4 More re- primarygroupratherthan as averagesor
centlyElsie ClewsParsonswrote:"In any stereotypes out of context.
systematic townsurveysuchdetailis neces- It is in thecontextofthefamilythatthe
sarilyomittedand lifeappearsmorestand- interrelationships betweenculturaland in-
ardizedthan it reallyis; thereis no place dividualfactorsintheformation ofpersonal-
for contradictionor exceptionsor minor itycan bestbe seen.Familycase studiescan
variations;the classifications moreor less therefore enableus to betterdistinguish be-
preclude picturesof peoplelivingand func- tweenand giveproperweightto thosefac-
tioningtogether."5 (Italics mine.)Here we torswhichare culturaland thosewhichare
have it. Parsons,in herbook on Mitla, has situationalor the resultof individualidio-
attemptedto remedythissituationby writ- syncracies. Even psychological testsbecome
inga chapteron gossip,and in othermono- more meaningfulwhen done on a family
graphswe sometimesget moreinsightinto basis. For example,on thebasis ofourfam-
whatthepeoplearelikefromscatteredfield- ily Rorschachtestswe can studytheextent
note referencesor from chance remarks to whichpersonalitydifferences run along
about the natureof the informants in the familylinesand the rangewithinfamilies,
forewordthan fromthe remainderof the as wellas whatseemsto be commonamong
study.These vivid and dynamicmaterials all familiesand can therefore be attributed
are too importantto be treatedin such a to broaderculturalconditioning.
haphazardway. One oftheadvantagesofstudyinga cul-
Anthropologists havemadesomeattempt turethroughthemediumofspecificfamilies
to salvagetheindividualthroughtheuse of is thatit enablesoneto getat themeaningof
autobiographiesand life-histories. Such institutions to individuals.It helpsus to get
studiesrepresenta greatstep forwardbut beyondformand structure or,to use Mali-
theyalso have theirlimitations, bothpracti- nowski'sterms,it puts fleshand blood on
cal and theoretical.Autobiographiesby the skeleton.The familyis thenaturalunit
theirverynaturearebaseduponinformants' forthe studyof the satisfactions, frustra-
4Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts ofthePacific tions, and maladjustments of individuals
(NewYork:E. P. Duttonand Co., 1932), p. I7. wholive undera specifictypeoffamilyor-
5 Mitla,TownoftheSouls (Chicago:University
ganization; the reactionsof individualsto
of Chicago Press, I936), p. 386. the expectedbehaviorpatterns;the effects

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
472 THE AMERICAN JOURNALOF SOCIOLOGY
ofconformity ordeviationuponthedevelop- in individualbehaviorthanwe had beenled
ment of the personality.Certainlythose to expectfromRedfield'searlierwork.
problemscan also be studiedin othercon- One ofthevirtuesofthe intensivestudy
texts. However,I am assumingthat the ofrepresentative familiesis thatit can give
moredata we gatheron a small groupof us the rangeof customand behaviorand
people who live and worktogetherin the can serveas a moreadequate basis from
family,the moremeaningful does theirbe- whichwe can deriveculturepatterns.In
haviorbecome.Thisis a cumulativeprocess, doingintensivestudiesofeventwoor three
especiallyimportantforunderstanding the families, onemustuse a largernumberofin-
covertaspectsof culture. formants than is generallyused by anthro-
Familycase studiescan also makea con- pologistsin monographson an entirecul-
tributionto the studyof culturepatterns. ture.Furthermore, in studyinga family,we
The conceptofcultureand culturepatterns get a deeperunderstanding of our inform-
is certainlyoneoftheproudachievements of ants than is otherwisepossible.This inti-
anthropology and othersocial sciences.But mateknowledgeof themis extremely help-
here again conceptualizationhas run far ful in evaluatingwhat theytell us and in
ahead of methodology.Kroeberwritesof checkingthe accountsof familymembers
culturepatterns:"In proportion as the ex- against one another.By the same token
pressionofsucha largepatterntendsto be such intimateknowledgeof informants can
abstract,it becomes arid and in
lifeless; pro- be used in checking the usefulness of Ror-
portionas it remainsattachedto concrete schachand otherprojectivetechniquesde-
facts,it lacks generalization.Perhaps the velopedin our own society.
mostvividand impressive characterizations In orderto conveysomeidea oftherange
havebeenmadeby frankintuition deployed incustomand familylifewhichcan be found
on a richbody of knowledgeand put into in even a relativelyhomogeneouspeasant
skillfulwords."6Thispointhas beenbrought societylike Tepoztlan,we presenta brief
homeclearlyto mostsociologists by there- summaryof findingson two familycase
centwritings ofanthropologists on national studies.
character.One of the resultsof thesewrit-
and others The firstfamily, theRojas family, consists
ingshasbeentomakesociologists ofthefather, mother, fourdaughters, and one
wonderaboutthereliability ofanthropologi-son.The children rangein agefromthirteen to
cal reporting even in the case of so-called twenty-six and all are unmarried. The second
"primitive"or "folk"societies. family,the Martinezfamily,consistsof the
A real methodologicalweaknessin an- father, mother, foursons,and twodaughters,
thropological fieldworkhas been too great theelderofwhomis married. The ages ofthe
a relianceupona fewinformants to obtaina children rangefromeightto twenty years.
In terms ofsizeboth are
families close tothe
pictureoftheculture.The traditional justi-
average for Tepoztecan families,which is about
ficationof thisprocedurehas been the as- fivemembers. In termsoffamilycomposition
sumptionof the essentialhomogeneity of alone
theyarethesimple biologicalfamily living
primitiveor folk societies.But this very ona housesite.Over70percentofTepoztecan
presupposition has oftenaffectedthemeth- families livein thisway.Bothcasesrepresent
ods used and therefore coloredthefindings. families in an advancedstageof development
Anaccountofa culturebasedupona fewin- sinceneither hasinfants orveryyoungchildren.
formants is boundto appear moreuniform The Rojas family is a better-to-dolandown-
than it reallyis. This became apparentin ingfamily intheuppereconomic group whichis
therestudyofthevillageofTepoztlanwhere madeup ofabout4 percentofthefamilies in
we founda muchwiderrangein custom and the village. The Martinez family is one of the
poorer,landlessfamilies ofthelowesteconomic
6 Alfred
Kroeber,Anthropology (NewYork:Har- group, whichconstitutes about8opercentofall
courtBrace & Co., 1948), p. 3I7. families.The latterexemplifies thosefamilies

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACH TO FAMILY STUDIES 473

whichpracticehoe cultureon communallands both familiesunderstandNahuatl, the Rojas


primarily withfamilylabor.7 childrenhave moreoccasionto use it becauseof
Whereasthe Rojas familydependsupon the their grandmother,who has only a limited
communallands only for firewood,charcoal, Spanishvocabulary.
and thegrazingofcattle,the Martinez'depend The questionofwhatthe twofamiliesrepre-
upon the communallands fortheirbasic food sentin regardto socialrelationsis moredifficult
supply.Neitherthe fathernor the son of the to answer.In general,the Rojas familyis the
Rojas familyworksas day laborersforothers more respectedof the two but this has less
in thevillageoron near-byhaciendas.However, effectupon social relationsthan mightbe ex-
both the father and the older sons of the pected. Both familieswell exemplifythe es-
Martinezfamilydo thisas a regularpracticeto sentiallyatomisticnatureof the social organ-
supplementtheir income. This pattern goes ization of the village, wherebythe biological
back to thedays beforetheMexican revolution familyconstitutes thebasic economicand social
of I9IO, whenthehead of the Martinezfamily, unit. Independence,self-reliance, and a strong
as a youth,workedas a peon on thehaciendas, sense of privacy,some of the most cherished
whilethehead of theRojas familyworkedonly values of Tepoztecans,clearlyemergein these
on his father'slands. twofamilies.Both familiesare characterized by
These two familieshave sharplycontrasting limitedrelationswith the extendedfamilyand
standardsof living.The Rojas familyis well neighbors,a paucity of intimatefriendships,
housed,well fed and well clothedaccordingto minimalcompliancewith obligationsto comn-
Tepoztecan standards.They can affordsome padres,reticencein borrowingor calling upon
luxuriesand theirhomecontainsmanymodern others for help, and, by the same token,
articlessuch as beds, chairs, tables, a clock, reticencein givinghelp.However,a closercom-
flashlight,and sewingmachine.The Martinez parisonof the two familiesrevealssome differ-
family,in contrast,lives close to a bare sub- ences.The Martinezparentshave evenless con-
sistencelevel and has but a minimumof cloth- tact with theirrelativesthan does the Rojas
ing and house furnishingsand none of the family,principallybecause of the riftover the
luxuriesfoundin the Rojas family.The latter change of religion.The Martinez', due to the
are reducedto a dietof tortilla,chili,and black political activity of the father,have much
coffeeduringseveral monthsof the year. The wider contacts among nonrelativesthan the
Rojas familyhas had more formalschooling Rojas'. However,theRojas children, because of
than the Martinez' and, as a whole,shows a theirgreaterfreedomand higherstatus,have a
higherdegreeofliteracysinceeverymemberof moreextensivesocial lifeamongboth relatives
thefamilycan read and write.Everyonein this and nonrelatives thando theMartinezchildren,
familyhas had some formaleducation. The whoseoutsideactivitiesare minimal.
fatherand the two elder daughtershave gone Both familiesare strong,cohesiveunitsand
throughthethirdgrade;themotherthroughthe representrelativelyclose in-groups.Each is
secondgrade. In addition,the Rojas familyis held togetherby traditionalbonds of family
somewhatunusual in that the three younger loyaltyand parentalauthority, by commoneco-
childrenare studentspreparingfor a profes- nomicstrivings and mutualdependence,by the
sional career.However,the fatherin the Mar- stabilityof marriagebetweentheparents,and,
tinez family,though a self-educatedman, is finally,by the absenceof othersocial groupsto
muchmoreliteratethanthefatherin theRojas whichthe familymemberscan turnin timeof
family,and one of the Martinez childrenhas need. The Rojas familyis furtherbound to-
had an advanced education.Like most mem- getherby the prospectof inheritanceon the
bers of their generationthe parents of both part of the children.
familiesare bilingualand frequentlyuse Na- These familiesprovideexamplesof different
huatlin speakingwitholdervillagersbut rarely types of familysituationsand interpersonal
with theirchildren.Althoughthe childrenof relations,and in some respectsrepresenttwo
extremesof familyorganizationin Tepoztlan.
7 Although about8opercentofthefamiliesinthe
In the Rojas familythe wifeis the dominating
villagefallin thelower economicgroup, about 20
percentofthefamilies workas tlacololeros.figure,althoughthe husband is the nominal
regularly
See OscarLewis,"PlowCultureand Hoe Culture- head of thefamilyand maintainssomeauthor-
A Studyin Contrasts," XIV, No. 2 ity.The husbandspendsmuchofhis timein his
RuralSociology,
(June,I949), II6-27. fieldsworkingtirelesslyto supporthis wifeand

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
474 THE AMERICAN JOURNALOF SOCIOLOGY
childrenand to providethemwiththeirmore- culturaldifferences, since they cut across
than-usual demands. He intrustshousehold class linesin Tepoztlan.
affairsand familyfinancesto his wife,who,in A practicaladvantageofthistypeofap-
additionto theseduties,carrieson severalgain-
ful activitiesand substantiallycontributes to proach to thestudyofcultureand personal-
thefamilyeconomy.Both thewifeand children ity is that a reasonablycompletefamilycase
have an unusualamountof freedomand inde- study can be donewithina relativelyshort
pendence. However, interpersonalrelations time,about twoorthreemonths, and might
within the familyare characterizedby con- be profitably carriedoniby anthropologists
siderableconflict, tension,and maladjustment. or sociologists whohave onlytheirsummer
Thereis muchquarreling on thepartofthewife, vacationin whichto do fieldwork.Several
drunkennessand adulteryon the part of the intensivefamilycase studies done in as
husband, difficultieswith in-laws, strong manysummerswouldbe in effecta cumu-
mother-son ties and favoritismon the part of
lativestudyofthe culture.
both parents,and competition,hostility,and
feelingsof rejectionamongthe siblings. The familycase studyalso presentsus
In the Martinez familythe husband is a with an excellentmethodofintroducing an-
dominating,authoritarianfigure who controls thropology students to fieldwork. The fam-
his wifeand childrenwith an iron hand. The ily,smallin size but reflecting at the same
wifeis completelysubmissiveand, in contrast timealmostall aspectsofthe culture,is a
to thewifeoftheRojas house,inactiveand un- manageableunit of studywell withinthe
able to contributefinancially to the supportof comprehension and abilitiesofthestudent-
the family.The husbandis unusual in the ex- certainly muchmoreso thanan entirecom-
tent to whichhe supervisesexpendituresand munity.The traditional trainingfieldparty
householdaffairs.Both the wife and children too oftenspendsitselfin eithera confused,
are extremely restrictedin theiractivitiesand
have littlefreedomofexpression. The oldersons patheticscrambleonthepartofthestudents
workunderthe directionof theirfatherand fre- to gatherand understand a largeamountof
quentlyworkto supportthe familywhilethe data covering all aspectsofthecultureorin
fatherdevoteshimselfto politicalactivity.The the limitedpursuitby each studentof a
chiefconflicts in thishouseholdare betweenthe singleproblemorinstitution. Frommyown
fatheron the one hand and the motherand experience withgroupsof studentsin rural
children on the other. Under the father's Cuba and Mexico I have foundthe family
repressionsthe mother and her sons and approachto fieldworkan invaluableaid.
daughtershave been drawnclosertogetherand Furthermore, familycase studiesare very
often demonstratemutual loyalty and con- a
usefulas a teachingaid in communicating
sideration.Thereis littleofthesiblingrivalryto
feeling forrealpeople.
be foundin the Rojas homeand onlyoccasion-
betweenthebrothersflareup.
ally do hostilities There is a need forintensiveindividual
In the past the fatherwas extremely indulgent familycase studiesin culturesall overthe
towardhis eldestdaughter,but he recentlyhas world.The publication ofsuchstudieswould
brokenoffrelationswithher because of disap- give us a literature on comparativefamily
provalofherhusband. lifenot now available and wouldbe of use
to manysocialscientists in a vari-
interested
It can be seen from this summary that ety ofproblemsconcerning cultureand the
any statement of over-all culture patterns individual.Moreover,because individual
would have to be made in termsof the range familiescan be describedwithoutrecourse
of differencesrather than in the terms of to abstractionsand stereotypes,
thepublica-
some abstract, hypotheticalnorm.It should tion of case studieswould provideus with
be noted that the differencein the husband- some basis forjudgingthe generalizations
wife relationshipin these two families can- made by anthropologists and otherscon-
not be explained in terms of class or sub- cerningthe total culturepatternsof any

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACH TO FAMILY STUDIES 475

community. The implicationof the family dividualfamilystudiesmayseemexcessive-


case studyforanthropological researchis ly cautiousat thistimewhensomeanthro-
clear. It means that we have to go more pologistsare writingwith such abandon
slowly,thatwe haveto spendmoretimedo- about the characterstructureof entirena-
ing carefuland detailed studies of units tions.Yet it maybe necessaryto takea few
smallerthantheentireculturebeforewe can stepsbackwardifwe are to forgeahead on
be readyto make valid generalizationsfor surerground.
theentireculture.These suggestionsforin- UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS

This content downloaded from 140.130.42.12 on Mon, 18 Jan 2016 23:11:00 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions