Kinship, Ethnicity And Voluntary Associations

Overview

How can Jewish relatives who range in residence and occupation from a Scarsdale doctor to a Brooklyn butcher, and who diverge in religiosity from an Orthodox cantor to a ham-eating atheist, maintain close family ties? It is a social truism that families with conflicting life styles scattered over a sprawling urban area fall apart. Even those families with a strong sense of duty to stay together begin to lose their cohesiveness as members' contacts become increasingly erratic and highly preferential. In Kinship, ...

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Overview

How can Jewish relatives who range in residence and occupation from a Scarsdale doctor to a Brooklyn butcher, and who diverge in religiosity from an Orthodox cantor to a ham-eating atheist, maintain close family ties? It is a social truism that families with conflicting life styles scattered over a sprawling urban area fall apart. Even those families with a strong sense of duty to stay together begin to lose their cohesiveness as members' contacts become increasingly erratic and highly preferential. In Kinship, Ethnicity and Voluntary Associations, William E. Mitchell describes how these intimate, spirited, and often contentious family clubs are organized and how they function.

This project delves into family circles and clubs, two remarkable social innovations by New York City Jews of Eastern European background, that attempt to keep relatives together even as the indomitable forces of urbanization and industrialization continue to split them apart. The family circle first appeared on the New York City Jewish scene in the early 1900s as an adaptive response to preserve, both in principle and action, the social integrity of the immigrant Jewish family. It consisted of a group of relatives with common ancestors organized like a lodge or club with elected officers, dues, regular meetings, and committees.

Family circles and cousins' clubs continued to exist as important variant types of family structure in New York Jewish communities for many years. Mitchell, in this work, deals with the challenging problems of how Jewish family clubs happened to emerge in American society and their theoretical implications for contemporary kinship studies. The research methods used in the study include a combination of intensive informant interviews, participant observation, and respondent questionnaires. This is an unusual, innovative contribution to cultural anthropology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
These are reviews of this book under its original title Mishpokhe: “Mishpokhe is the Yiddish word for relatives. William Mitchell’s monograph describes the interactions of the mishpokhe in his study of two types of Jewish family clubs… [T]his volume makes a contribution both to the field of family studies and Jewish ethnography. I would add that it also makes a significant contribution to the area of anthropological field research and can provide us all with greater insights into our own behavior and presentation of self when next we enter the field.” —Myrna Silverman, American EthnologistMishpokhe… is a straightforward account of family circles and cousins’ clubs among East European Jewish immigrants to New York City and their descendents… As an ethnography the book is intentionally limited to a focus on the clubs and circles, per se. Mitchell has included a substantial amount of direct speech from his informants’ interview responses, written statements, and other commentary. This material adds a valuable dimension to the book and gives some sense of the tone of the associations and of members’ perceived relations to the clubs and to their lives in a broader sense… The people whom Mitchell studied were, in large part, the cultural descendants of the Jews of the shtetls (“small towns”) of Eastern Europe… No comparable study has been attempted.” —Janet Dolgin, American Anthropologist “While working on a larger research project on Jewish family and kinship, William Mitchell learned of the existence of Jewish “family clubs” (family circles and cousins clubs). As an anthropologist, Mitchell was quick to recognize the importance of studying more closely this uniquely Jewish cultural institution within the context of kinship patters in post-industrial societies. Using informants, survey research, and participant-observation, Mitchell presents a meticulously constructed analysis of the structure and dynamics of Jewish family clubs… Beyond the excellence and thoroughness of that discussion, the book contains much primary data of interest to students of the ethnic family in general, and the Jewish group in particular.” —Bruce A. Phillips, Contemporary Sociology “Mitchell has accomplished a great deal in penetrating the heretofore remote world of Jewish family clubs—a feat all the more impressive in that he is not Jewish… Mitchell has been able to capture the subtlety and nuance of intimate interaction while offering broader sociological theories at the same time.” —Richard Benkin, American Journal of Sociology
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780202363011
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/15/2008
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William E. Mitchell is professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Vermont. His work has appeared in numerous journals, including the American Anthropologist; American Ethnologist; Psychiatry; and Natural History. He is the author of Kinship, Ethnicity, and Voluntary Associations (Transaction, 2008).

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