Report Calls for Better Scientific Research on Courtship
cmfce at his.com
Mon Sep 18 20:58:28 EDT 2000
subject: Report Calls for Better Scientific Research on Courtship
from: Smart Marriages
Press Release Contact: David Brenner
For Public Release on September 20, 2000 212-246-3942
To: Print and Broadcast Journalists
Re: New Report Calls for Better Scientific Research on Courtship
New York City, September 20, 2000/The Institute for American Values today
releases an evaluation of the current state of courtship research in North
America, by Dan Cere, Co-Director of the Newman Center at McGill University
in Montreal, Canada. The report, "The Experts¹ Story of Courtship" evaluates
the three most prominent schools of thought about courtship among family
scholars today: exchange theory, sociobiology, and close relationship
theory. While each provides important insights into contemporary culture,
the report finds, none provides an adequate model for scientific
understanding of courtship today.
Cere concludes that "[F]amily scholars as a whole would do us all a great
service if they would rediscover their historic scientific curiosity about
courtship as traditionally understood -- that is, as the attitudes, values,
social rituals, and practices leading to marriage, especially successful
Until recently "courtship occupied a prominent position" in the research
interest of social scientists. Courtship matters because marriage matters:
"marriage was understood as a social institution vital to welfare of society
-- much more than simply a life style choice or a personal relationship
between two isolated individuals." As marriage has weakened, scholarly
interest turned elsewhere.
What findings and ideas can current family and social science scholarship
provide in understanding courtship and marriage today? "Very few" reports
Cere. Indeed, of the three major expert narratives of courtship, only one --
exchange theory -- still defines courtship as related to marriage at all.
However, exchange theory is of limited use in understanding courtship,
argues Cere, because this field "explicitly assumes that acts of marriage,
like other acts, are primarily directed at the self, and that the self is
above all a consumer of goods, relationships and even attitudes. . .
Persons marry,¹ [exchange theorist] Gary Becker writes, when the utility
expected from marriage exceeds the utility expected from remaining single.¹"
The second expert narrative, sociobiology, also rips apart the veil of
romance to bring a "stark realism to discussions of heterosexual
attraction," notes Cere, offering a "rollicking spoof on the world of
romance and power" where "lovers are bustling about, stumbling through their
relationships, deceiving one another." For the study of courtship, though,
sociobiology has inherent limitations: "To a sociobiologist," reports Cere,
"your mate is not the person you marry, it is the person with whom you have
children. If those children survive and reproduce, the union was successful;
if not, not."
The third theory of courtship, or the close relationship theory, suffers
from a similar blind-side, reducing marriage to just one of many sorts of
possible couple relationships. "Close relationship theorists argue that the
family is essentially a lay or commonsense construct,¹ rather than a
meaningful scientific model," says Cere. Of course the term "family" may be
a "valid poetic and literary description of folk-culture reality" in the
words of one close relationship theorist, that may be
helpful in "fostering communication among lay persons" but such folk
concepts distort and limit scientific research.
This way of thinking is reaching out beyond the academy, increasingly
influencing family law in the United States and Canada. Four leading
relationship scholars suggest that legal theorists and professionals expand
the definition of family to include all "close relationships." The American
Law Institute recently did just that, reports Cere, proposing model
legislation that offers many of the benefits of marriage to couples who live
together. The Canadian Bar Association has just published a lengthy report
"Recognizing and Supporting Close Personal Relationships Between Adults"
which argues the law should no longer give special recognition to marriage
but instead "should recognize and support" all significant adult close
relationships so long as they are "neither dysfunctional nor harmful."
In short, the experts¹ story of courtship both reflects and reinforces some
the more distressing trends in contemporary culture. Because they focus on
individuals and their choices, all three schools of courtship ignore the
social and institutional dimensions of marriage, which is not just a
lifestyle, but a universal human institution connecting mothers, fathers and
children in a close family, not just personal, bond.
Consequently, these expert narratives shed little light on key questions,
such as: how do young people negotiate through dating, romance,
relationships and sex to successful marriage under contemporary conditions?
How can family, faith communities, friends and society help the next
generation make happier, healthier marriages?
As Cere concludes: "Marriage is not just an inferior version of going
steady, or a sexual barter, or a consumer good. Love is more than a style.
Courtship is more than coupling. Illuminating these distinctions will
require scientific models that begin, above all, with curiosity about what
Praise for The Experts¹ Story of Courtship:
"An important and timely piece of highly original scholarship that will
deepen your understanding of where America is and how we got that way. Cere
tells us how leading thinkers today conceptualize and research the issues of
courtship and marriage and what these core propositions reveal, and obscure,
about courtship and marriage."
-- David Blankenhorn, President, Institute for American Values
"There is no more important topic than finding new ways to restore a
culture of courtship. Dan Cere¹s fascinating glimpse into the contributions
intellectuals have made to our society's current confusion about courtship
and marriage is a good place to start."
-- Leon and Amy Kass, authors of Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Reading in
Courtship and Marrying.
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