the children of hobbes: education, family structure and the problem of social order
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The Children of Hobbes: Education,Family Structure and the Problem ofSocial OrderCarl L. Bankston III a & C. Eddie Palmer aa University of Southwestern Louisiana , USAPublished online: 19 Nov 2012.
To cite this article: Carl L. Bankston III & C. Eddie Palmer (1998) The Children of Hobbes:Education, Family Structure and the Problem of Social Order, Sociological Focus, 31:3, 265-281, DOI:10.1080/00380237.1998.10571106
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00380237.1998.10571106
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THE CHILDREN OF HOBBES: EDUCATION, FAMILY STRUCTURE
AND THE PROBLEM OF SOCIAL ORDER*
CARL L. BANKSTON HI SOCIOLOGICAL FOCUS C. EDDIE PALMER Vol. 31 No. 3 University of Southwestern Louisiana August 1998
This article suggests that the problem of social order remains a basic theoretical and practical issue for sociologists. It maintains that Dennis Wrong's discussion of this problem can help us conceptualize degrees of social order or disorder as emerging from patterns of social interactions. Given the increasing prevalence of single-parent families as an American social pattern, the article investigates the possibility that family structure may influence school outcomes by producing varying levels of social order in schools. Specifically, it looks at whether concentrations of students from single-parent families may lead to conflictual environments that can influence the school performance of all students, regardless of individual family backgrounds.
arsons and Shils described the problem of social order as "one of the very first functional imperatives of social systems" (1951, p. 180). This problem is not only a philosophical issue, as Roidt (1995) has claimed; it is also a practical matter since the order or disorder of a social system can affect the lives of its members.
Dennis Wrong's The Problem of Order (1994) offers an intriguing investigation of the forces that hold social groups together. In probing the nature of social order, Wrong points out that this term has two closely related but distinct meanings. It can refer to regularity or rule in human social interactions, and it can refer to patterns of cooperation among actors. He argues that people develop regularities as norms, roles and institutions in the course of recurrent interactions. In this sense, social order tends to "take care of itself," since the lives of human beings largely consist of interactions with others. These interactions, though, may differ greatly in character, since they may be products of a variety of motivations.
Thinking about motivations, in Wrong's discussion, introduces the Hobbesian order problem, the problem of conflict versus cooperation. This is not an absolute choice, as suggested by Hobbes' (1968) unfortunate and misleading description of the natural human state as a "war of all against all." Humans in a state of total conflict could exist no longer than the time it would take parents to murder their children.1 Perfect cooperation, at the other extreme, seems to be a social state that exists only in
.Please direct all correspondence to Carl L. Bankston III, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, P.O. Box 40198, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, LA 70504-0198, e-mail: Bankston@usl.edu.
266 SOCIOLOGICAL FOCUS
the imagination. In response to classic functionalism's "oversodalized" conception of cooperative order as the product of norms imposed on individuals from an external society, Wrong argues that human beings produce particular Mendings of conflict and cooperation from expectations developed in the course of their dealings with one another (this, also, is one of the themes of Wrong's well-known 1961 essay).
One of the virtues of Wrong's conceptualization of social order is that it offers a means of describing in what way social patterns are sui generis. They emerge from shared expectations created by interactions and, as collective regularities, become environments within which individuals live. A second virtue lies in its recognition that these regularities may vary greatly in the amount of conflict or cooperation they yield. Thus, the potential of any given social pattern for creating conflictual or cooperative environments is a matter of both theoretical and practical concern.
Among the most notable developments in modern American social patterns has been the increasing prevalence of single-parent families. Bumpass and Martin (1989) predicted that two-thirds of all first marriages would end in divorce, and custody of children is overwhelmingly granted to women. The proportion of unmarried mothers in the United States has been rising since the early 1950s, and by the mid-1990s nearly one-third of all births in the U.S. were to single mothers. According to Bumpass (1990), about half of all American children will spend some time in a single-parent family, and the majority of these children will remain in mother-only families until they become adults.
The large number of children from single-parent families means that children are also more likely than they were in the past to find themselves in social environments in which other children from single-parent families predominate. One might argue, then, that single-parent family structure is increasingly exercising a contextual influence, as well as an individual influence. This means that studying the effects of this increasingly common family structure on children is not simply a matter of looking at how individual children are influenced by their own families; it can also be seen as a matter of considering what level of conflict exists in the social order created by interactions among children from one-parent families. Since school is one of the primary locations of the society of modern children, we need to look at what kind of school social environment is created by the prevalence of children from single-parent families. Utilizing the second meaning of social order suggested by Wrong, order as cooperation and relative absence of conflict, we can think of this as investigating the relationship between family structure and disorder (presence of conflict and disruption) in the school environment.
Researchers have generally found that students from single-parent families tend to show weaker levels of school performance than students from other family types (Thompson, Alexander and Entwhistle 1988; Astone and McLanahan 1991; Sandefur, McLanahan and Wojtkiewicz 1992; Featherstone, Cundick and Jensen 1993; Hong Li and Wojtkiewicz 1993; Wojtkiewicz 1993). Children from single-parent families have also been found to be more likely than other children to have psychological problems, to commit anti-social acts, to become addicted to drugs and alcohol and to display aggression and other forms of behavior likely to create problems in the classroom
THE CHILDREN OF HOBBES 267
(Dornbusch et al. 1985; McLanahan and Booth 1989; Featherstone, Cundick and Jensen 1993; Pearson, Ialongo and Hunter 1994; Vaden-Kiernan, Ialongo and Kellam 1995).
The negative relationship between single-parent families and scholastic performance has been attributed to the weak economic position of many single mothers, who make up the overwhelming majority of single parents (Herzog and Sudia 1973; Blechman 1982; McLanahan 1985; Acock and Kiecolt 1989; Takeuchi, Williams and Adair 1991). Nevertheless, some previous research suggests that family structure can h