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Family and Kinship in the United States

Cultural Perspectives on Familial Belonging

Edited By Karolina Golimowska, Reinhard Isensee and David Rose

The volume takes a close look at the forms and functions of family and kinship in cultural narratives in the United States. It analyzes social and cultural contexts of kinship and family membership, relations of family and nation on a metaphorical level, and the political discourses that regulate sexuality and reproduction. Representations of family and kinship inform all aspects of American life, which is prominently noticeable in politics, legislation, art, and the media. Family discourses are employed to communicate and negotiate constellations of power and they can serve to investigate differences, struggles, alliances, strategic endeavors, and innovative conceptualizations of kinship. The essays collected in this volume provide readings of texts across various genres that highlight the role of cultural production in reconfiguring paradigms of family and kinship in the US.
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“Intricate Waves of Love and Hatred”: Representations, Models, and Functions of Family in Michael Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood (1995)


The concept of family has been the subject of widespread cultural fascination and scholarly investigations and it is safe to say that “family” ranks as an essential and ubiquitous factor of everyday life. Family scholar Jon Bernardes, for instance, highlights the immense significance of the family unit by stating that “[m]ost people in Western industrialized societies, and probably most people world-wide, consider family living as the most important aspect of their lives” (1). Especially in American culture, the family is regarded as a fundamental pillar of society and has become closely linked to the idea of the American Dream: Similar to this enduring national narrative, the family also promises happiness, safety, and self-fulfillment. Jeffrey Scott Turner comments that “[f]or countless Americans, the family unit represents … the source of love, care, and comfort” (109). The institution of family oftentimes serves as a canvas onto which people project their hopes and desires for a stable and satisfied life.

For some time now, however, there have been claims that “the family [is] in a state of emergency” (Coleman, Ganong, and Warzink ix). On closer examination, it becomes clear that this so-called crisis of the family can be explained by the structural and demographic changes that have taken place in the composition and appearance of families. While some willingly accept that nowadays “family exists in diverse styles and shapes” (Turner 33; see also Wahlström 37) such as, for example, single parenting, patchwork families, unmarried couples, and same-sex...

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