Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Make Room for Singles

A recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Make Room for Singles in Teaching & Research" argues that

In the academy, much research and teaching is based on the outdated assumption that marriage and the nuclear family dominate adult life. As a result, people who are single, and perspectives not based on conventional marriage, are greatly underrepresented or misrepresented in scholarship and public policy.

As examples, the authors continue:

Marriage and family studies, for example, is a burgeoning, multidisciplinary field that has recently expanded to incorporate the study of nontraditional families. But single people are still likely to appear in its research and courses only if they have an important life experience in common with adults in nuclear families — for example, if they had been married, have children, or are cohabiting.

Scholars in psychology, sociology, and many other disciplines have contributed to the growing field of relationship science — which, in theory, is about all relationships and hence broader than the study of marriage and family. In practice, however, research in that field focuses on romantic and marital attachments, using "relationship" as a shorthand for conjugal ties.

The marriage-centered view of singles assumes that they are alone, and that the growth of one-person households means the nation is at risk of a national epidemic of loneliness. Research from a singles perspective by one of us — The New Single Woman (Beacon Press, 2005), by E. Kay Trimberger — and other scholars challenges such assumptions. It shows that singles have strong ties to their extended families, are adept at forming networks of friends, and are more involved in their communities than married people are.

The relationships that are important to single people, like close friendships and ties to members of the extended family, are invisible to or devalued by scholars who consider marriage the norm. Some of them might argue that singles have close friendships because they are compensating for not having a spouse. A singles perspective would generate other hypotheses — for example, that many single people prefer to maintain a diversified relationship portfolio, rather than investing most of their emotional capital in just one person.

My first impulse on reading this was to mentally retreat into what is probably a stereo-typical Catholic sort of "Oh, my heavens, look how far the assault on the family is going in our society!  We must resist this attempt to validate the sybaritic singles life-style!" 

But upon further reflection, I realized that the article isn't suggesting anything like that, and in fact taps into something that does trouble me about some of the Catholic conversations about family and men and women (including, I freely admit, some of my own work).  I don't think we give enough thought to, let alone intellectual support to, those whose  vocations call them to a life that can't include raising a family themselves -- not just religious vocations, but also those who recognize that the work they are called to do must be so absorbing that they cannot responsibly start their own families.  The discussion in Mulieris Dignatem of "spiritual motherhood" suggests a start, but it doesn't really go very far.  Is there more discussion of this issue directed at priests that I don't know about?  I think it would be very interesting to see some Catholic contributions to this kind of research. 


Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink

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