This essay explores my recent research on the internal dynamics in American Jewish and mixed-married families, based on 254 in-depth interviews with husbands and wives in four American locations (New England, New Jersey, Atlanta, and Denver), augmented by four focus group discussions with teenagers growing up in mixed-married households. I analyze the texts provided by these many and diverse individual stories, as each of the informants has interpreted his or her own life, behaviors, and goals. I am especially interested in the ways in which husbands and wives negotiate the ethnic and religious character of their households, the ways in which these negotiations change over time, and the impact of extended family members and friends on these continuing negotiations. I asked my informants to recall both the quotidian and the life-transforming, to describe their daily, weekly, and yearly routines. I asked them many questions about the ways in which they interpret the events and decisions in their own lives.
But sometimes my interpretations of informants' lives differ from the ways in which they understand themselves. When ethno-religious societies seemed relatively defined and stable, social scientists measured characteristics through formally defined yardsticks, often derived from the behaviors and attitudes which characterized these particular societies in the past. However, today, in our times of enormous societal flux and change, it is much less clear what particular behaviors may mean - what their significance is to the individuals, societies, and families who do or do not perform them. Today, it is not a given that the social scientist is "objective," and has authority beyond that of his informants to interpret and analyze observations. The task of the social scientist becomes especially complicated under these conditions.
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Fishman, Sylvia Barack. Relatively Speaking: Constructing Identity in Jewish and Mixed Married Families. David W. Belin Lecture in American Jewish Affairs. Regents of the University of Michigan, Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies. 2002: