Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Families and Social Change

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Families and Social Change

Article excerpt

As editor of the Journal of Marriage and Family, I read many fine manuscripts on topics that would fascinate anyone with an interest in families. Occasionally, however, I come across one that stands apart. Margaret Nelson has written such a manuscript, and I am delighted to give you an opportunity to read it in this issue.

Nelson challenges prevailing thinking about variations in family structure, arguing that single mothers negotiate their relations with their own mothers-and with their boyfriends and potential husbands-in ways that reflect the Standard North American Family (SNAP; Smith, 1993) ideal. Her provocative ideas intrigued reviewers, yet questions were raised about her work as well. Although her methodology is grounded in a longstanding qualitative research tradition, it is one seldom seen within the pages of this journal. Reviewers tend to be skeptical of methods with which they are not familiar, appropriately so. Here was an opportunity to draw attention to Nelson's exciting work and at the same time demonstrate to less familiar readers the trustworthiness of her method.

I sought comments on Nelson's manuscript from four scholars. Rosanna Hertz's justpublished book, Single by Choice, Mothers by Chance (Oxford Press) focuses on a different population of single mothers from Nelson's but engages with a related subject. Indeed, Nelson builds on Hertz's work in her article. She accepted my invitation to situate Nelson's research within its methodological tradition of processual accounts and also points to its theoretical contributions.

Andrew Cherlin, who has shown how single mothers build and maintain social networks, points to the uniqueness of Nelson's perspective in demonstrating how single mothers create boundaries. He wonders whether race plays a role that cannot be seen in Nelson's study, focused as it is on rural, poor, White women in Vermont. In contrast to Nelson's, his reading of the data suggests that these single mothers are creating decidedly "un-SNAF-like" families.

Natalia Sarkisian, who studies variations in family integration and kin support by race and gender, argues that the combination of structural and cultural forces facing single mothers calls for attention to the boundary ambiguity, role ambiguity, and intergenerational ambivalence in their lives. …

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