It’s nearing the end of April and students in the Sociology 399 course, Family Life in Turbulent Times, have been in lockdown various times over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That experience, as it turns out, provides a unique perspective for digging into the day’s topic: “Sheltering in Place: Rethinking Family Life in a Pandemic.”
The class, led over Zoom by Jennie Germann Molz, professor of sociology, has gathered articles about how the pandemic has impacted the mobility of families, and students are ready to discuss how those pieces relate to their lives. “Families have had to stay put, a new arrangement that people have had to get used to,” Germann Molz begins.
One student says that the risk involved in the pandemic has resulted in an increase in helicopter parenting: “There is so much uncertainty and so much risk involved, and parents are cognizant of that and worried.” Parents are definitely “watching over children’s schoolwork,” notes another. The students go on to discuss issues such as the mental health aspects of the pandemic, including the dangers of confinement and being stuck in one place.
While today’s session is focused on the pandemic, the course covers a range of theories, methods and case studies, including comparative studies of how U.S. families cope with economic insecurity. Assigned readings also include an ethnographic account of African American roots tourism in Brazil and a long-term study of the impact of migration on a Filipino family. For their final projects, students are exploring topics such as parenting practices among transnational migrants and expatriate families, alternative family structures in communal living and how parents have handled remote learning with their school-age children.
Germann Molz developed the idea for this new advanced seminar as she was researching her recently published book, “The World is Our Classroom: Extreme Parenting and the Rise of Worldschooling.”
“I learned that families were using mobility as a strategy for coping with uncertainty and preparing their children for a changing world,” she says. “I wanted to design a seminar that would allow students to grapple with similar questions about how families navigate social and economic instability, how it feels to parent in a risky world and what a good family life looks like under the conditions of late modernity.”
Germann Molz wants students to understand that although family lives are disrupted by events such as the pandemic or natural or economic disasters, people weather this turbulence in different ways depending on their social location. “What appear to be personal problems within our private family lives are actually entangled with broader histories, structures and social patterns,” she notes.
Victoria Tara ’21, a political science and sociology major, took the course to expand her understanding of how the concept of family can be interpreted across history and society. She says she particularly enjoyed reading the book, “Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times,” and was intrigued to learn about the different styles of parenting and concepts relevant to parent-child relationships. “I find it fascinating that scholars have studied how different techniques of parenting have an impact on how children learn and grow in our society,” she says.
Tara plans to apply the themes she’s learned about family life, turbulence, mobility, stability and insecurity to her career: “There is no one way to define ‘family,’ and I am grateful that this course has strengthened my critical thinking and analytical skills to understand a whole range of familial relationships in a new way.”
The topic of insecurity has been a favorite for Zoe Petit ’22, a psychology and health studies double major with a gender studies and women’s studies concentration. She says she has especially enjoyed examining the role that financial insecurity can play in a family’s life: “I was surprised how different the concept of family is for different people and the different kinds of stress people experience based on caring for their family.”
Germann Molz wants students to connect their studies to the Jesuit principle of being people who are “for and with others.” For instance, each required text examines how a sense of kinship can shape mutual obligations.
Petit understands the link: “Studying this topic during the pandemic has made me realize how important family is and what we owe one another,” she says. “When I think of family, I think it’s someone I can rely on no matter what … However, I now realize that family can be more than just blood relations, it can be bigger than what you expect.”
Family Life in Turbulent Times
Jennie Germann Molz
This course is an advanced seminar that examines how families engage in various mobilities and adapt to new patterns of immobility as a way of performing a “good family life” in turbulent times. Keeping race, class, gender and nationality central to the class project, students explore how different families use mobility to deal with the risks and ambiguities of late modernity while preparing their children to thrive in an uncertain future.
Tuesday, 2:15 PM – 4:45 PM
Zoom and Canvas
REQUIRED READING / VIEWING
Weighted grading based on work completed across three units
ABOUT THE PROFESSOR
Jennie Germann Molz, professor of sociology, earned a B.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, an M.A in popular culture studies from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a Ph.D. in sociology at Lancaster University in England. In 2013, she was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Lapland’s Multidimensional Tourism Institute in Rovaniemi, Finland. Her research interests include globalization, culture, citizenship, mobilities, technology and tourism. She is co-editor of the journal Hospitality & Society and author of the recently published “The World Is Our Classroom: Extreme Parenting and the Rise of Worldschooling” (NYU Press). She is also the author of “Travel Connections: Tourism, Technology and Togetherness in a Mobile World” and co-author of “Disruptive Tourism and its Untidy Guests: Alternative Ontologies for Future Hospitalities.” She has taught at Holy Cross since 2007.
Written by Sandra Gittlen for the Summer 2021 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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