Restating the Family: Kinship and Care in the Czech Republic

Nash, Rebecca Jean, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Hymes, Dell H., Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores competing meanings of the Czech family. The project is framed by social and political transformations that took place in the Czech lands during two periods: that of socialist rule (1948-1989) and that of post socialist reform (1989- 2000). Although many families embraced increased opportunities for self-realization emerging since the end of socialist rule in 1989, memories of family life during the socialist era served as a standard for family behavior in the post socialist era. The ability to depend upon kin was, moreover, critical to definitions of self-reliance as the state reconfigured the terms of public care for Czech families. Kin networks shaped class in the post socialist era much as they determined relations with the state during the socialist period.

The author introduces the concepts of "productive" and "unproductive" dependency. The productive dependent leaned on a range of public provisions for families, but was conceived of as deserving them. Unproductive dependents were those who Czechs called "socially weaker," and they were perceived of as unable, or unwilling, to care for their own and as entirely dependent on the state. These categories operated during the socialist and post socialist eras.

Additionally, this dissertation argues that Czech stories about their families demystify the notion of self-care. Czechs were dependent upon their family networks or more fully on the state. Family networks influenced how Czechs engaged with discourses of transition to an "open society," "freedom," and "limitless mobility." Ethnographic study in Prague in state offices for families and the collection of family histories reveals that policy goals of ending paternalism and encouraging self-support often rested upon cultural assumptions about familial provisions. The family was critical to achieving a productive dependency.

Separation from the state (i.e., the realization of the state versus family opposition characterizing literature on Czech families) was made possible when family networks existed. Czechs harnessed a state versus family ideal as a critique of the "socially weaker." Representatives of the Czech state throughout the twentieth century promoted a legacy of social provisioning for families. Yet we must consider how state ideologies of the family interact with other meanings of the family.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
socialist reform, family life, Czech republic

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-17 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:37:02.

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