Transformations of Patriarchy in the West, 1500-1900.
In a conversation several years ago about axes of difference within history--gender, race, class, location, age, chronology, marital status, sexual orientation, etc., etc.,--a colleague of mine sighed, "In heaven we get to think about only one thing at a time." (A line she later revealed she had heard in a discussion of the lives of working women with young children, but found it applied in many contexts.) The difficulties of keeping these many axes in mind have meant that most of us privilege one or two, occasionally consider another one or two, and hope to get to the others later. These difficulties also mean that we may be suspicious of a book that seeks to keep them all in mind, unless it is a case study of a small village which the author knows intimately.
Transformations of Patriarchy is not a case study, but a sweeping look at two related processes, the "changing familial, economic, and political modes of governance in the West between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries" and the "attempts by various reformers to instill self-mastery into subject populations," (p. 8) primarily through schooling. It is based on a thorough reading of a huge range of secondary studies and theoretical works, as well as the author's own research on schooling in Australia. Its broad topics and claims of inclusiveness initially aroused my suspicions, especially as both of these topics have been central parts of grand theoretical systems whose authors' names--Foucault, Aries, Elias--are thrown around widely and often carelessly. Miller blessedly (to stay with theological metaphors) does not develop a grand system of her own, however, but explores connections among the various processes traced by theory-builders, historians, and cultural analysts. She explicitly notes several time s, in fact, that she is interested in links rather than causalities, and that she finds no one theory or model sufficient. This may be frustrating for some readers, but I found it refreshing, as was her careful refusal to privilege social, economic, intellectual or demographic change; nothing is presented simply as "context" for something else.
The first part, Chapters One through Three, explores issues surrounding patriarchy, or, to use the term Miller more often favors, patriarchalism, and their replacement by fraternalism in the eighteenth-century revolutions. Miller is aware of the controversy surrounding the word "patriarchy," but convincingly argues that it is an effective description for a range of early modern relationships of governance, including husbands and wives, fathers and children, masters and servants, pastors and parishioners, rulers and subjects, and (initially) employers and workers. She notes the conflicts between and contradictions within various patriarchal relationships, as, for example, cities and pastors defended wives against their husbands, or states ordered fathers to send their children to school, or pastors used confessionalization as a tool to both support and oppose state-building. Chapter Two investigates intentional and unintentional challenges to patriarchy that derived from economic changes such as proto-industr ialization and groups such as the journeymen's guilds and Masons that were masculinist, but not patriarchal. Chapter Three continues this theme, as the challenges grew into fraternal political revolutions which excluded women from the public sphere more effectively than patriarchy had.
In the second part, Chapters Four through Six, Miller turns from society at large to institutions and individuals. She discusses the ideas of Foucault and Elias and their critics, and investigates the ways in which programs for greater social control of inferiors developed into ones which aimed at internal self-mastery. Schools were a major part of that process, and Miller deftly summarizes the findings of many studies about the development of formal schooling in Europe. Her summaries do not gloss over disputes or differences of opinion--this is a survey, not a textbook--and she points out issues on which there is no successful existing explanation, such as why schooling developed first in "backward" places such as Sweden or Prussia rather than "advanced" ones such as England. Schools were not the only institutions involved in this "civilizing process," and Miller also discusses the role of the professional army, penal codes whose enforcement depended on the level of remorse demonstrated by the accused, and the moralized home. Her inclusion of the latter allows her to integrate discussion of changes within family life more fully than previous examinations of the "civilizing process" or the "great confinement" have. She relates all of these institutional changes to intellectual and material changes, with individual examples drawn widely from around Europe.
The third part of the book, Chapters Seven and Eight, narrows the focus even further, presenting evidence from the schooled and disciplined rather than the schoolers and discipliners to see if all these efforts at social control and teaching self-mastery worked. Though she qualifies it, Miller's general opinion is that they did not. Working-class subjectivity did not change significantly, and what change there was led to revolution rather than docility. Ironically, this revolution was accompanied by a reinvigoration of patriarchy within the family, as the "family wage" emerged as a goal of working-class men, and the unwaged labor of women and children in the home or on the family farm was no longer defined as work. Schools also played a role in this; feminized teaching staffs created new ideals of proper motherhood and demanded higher standards of dress in their students, both of which required women to devote more time to reproductive rather than productive work. It is working-class mothers, in fact, who em erge from this book as the one group with little ability to shape their own lives, who were somehow immune to the "transfers, mutations, rediscoveries, and recaptures" (p. 292) of patriarchal power that at various points were experienced by the state, the clergy, school teachers, middle-and then working-class men, and even school pupils.
Though the three parts of the book are not flawlessly integrated, each provides an excellent survey of the issues concerned, written in a clear style that would make them ideal for beginning graduate students and non-specialists. Miller's creative linking of topics that are generally considered separately also provides much to mull over for those who are specialists.
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2000|
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