Academic journal article Family Relations

Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty

Academic journal article Family Relations

Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty

Article excerpt

Skolnick, Arlene. (1991). Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Basic Books. 284 pp. Paperback ISBN 0-465-01924-2, price $ 14.00.

Embattled Paradise interprets the shock waves of economic, social, and psychological change impacting American families over the past century. Its critique of deficiencies in existing family books is a thought-provoking preface. Changes in the context of twentieth century life-proliferation and decline of an industrial economy, increasing life course, cultural diversity, and escalating expectations of relationships-are presented as alternatives to popular nostalgic and moral panic explanations of family trends. Discussion follows the sequences of change from the rise of the modern family after the Victorian Era through the five decades since World War II. The 1950s, described as the popular and media ideal for modern families, is interpreted as "the deviant decade," characterized by unprecedented (and unreplicated) birth rates, domesticity, and suburban uniformity-ideals that had many exceptions at the time and have often been distorted since. Contradictions and limitations of the 1950s culture are seen as giving birth to the women's movement in the 1960s, as frustrated domesticity and job discrimination awakened a new consciousness among women. A further chapter examines the broad themes of traditionalism and change in the 1970s into the 1980s, characterizing the era as one of nostalgia, and challenging views that American families had become hopelessly disengaged, narcissistic, and amoral-with evidence from key studies showing sustained ideals, commitment, and family survival amid massive cultural and economic change.

The final three chapters of Embattled Paradise reexamine patterns of change from their sources and paradoxes to their expression in political movements, social comment, and individual lifestyles and expectations, to current debates over the causes and consequences. Patterns of the "high risk and high stress society," including increasing disparity among social classes and ethnic groups and declining formal and informal supports, are contrasted with the burgeoning of creative and committed efforts to sustain and reshape life together with new optimism and idealism. …

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