The Family-Bond

Introduction and theoretical challenges

This chapter outlines the subconscious and unspoken values that frame policy implementation in the CGCs. Discussing adoption in Japan, Bryant (1990: 335-336) argues:

Mediation has played an important role in the maintenance of legitimacy because disputes can be resolved without resort to the formal legal rules. In fact, the contours of the disputes and their resolution are difficult to draw precisely due to the facts that mediation is used so frequently and that it is a process that is generally closed to the public and to researchers.

This book gives a window into this and similarly closed processes and, in doing so, allows us to explore the values on the family. Drawing on Parson’s (1972) distinction between values and norms (see Chapter 3), the decisionmaking process in alternative care can be understood on two levels. The first is normative, with the decision acting as a form of social control delineating what an ‘acceptable’ family is. The second relates to values on the family: ‘in all their apparently aberrant modes of behavior, individuals, who are “ill” are just transcribing a state of the group, and making one or another of its constants manifest’ (Lévi-Strauss, 1950: 17).

Analysis of the 210 aid objective meetings across the three fieldwork sites led to a focus on the construction of the family-bond, the relationship between child and family. While three key aspects of this construction were shared across my fieldwork sites, despite their different foster care rates, I do not understand this construction as immutable, static or ahistorical. Instead, drawing on Bourdieu (1996: 25), 1 understand the CGCs as engaged in a process of continual production, rather than simple replication:

In a kind of circle, the native category [of family], having become a scientific category for demographers, sociologists and especially social workers who, like official statisticians, are invested with the capacity to work on reality, to make reality, helps give real existence to that category.

This book argues that ‘not only do policies codify social norms and values, and articulate fundamental organizing principles of society, they also contain implicit (and sometimes explicit) models of society’ (Shore and Wright, 1997: 7), and that the implementation of welfare is ‘an active force in the ordering of social relations’ (Esping-Andersen, 1990: 23). Within this, ‘representations, linguistically and symbolically codified, are seen as creating social reality rather than just reflecting it’ (Russell and Edgar, 1998: 5).

There are challenges with this approach. The first is the fact that ‘to commit oneself to a semiotic concept of culture and an interpretive approach to the study of it is to commit oneself to a view of ethnographic assertion as, to borrow B. Gallie’s by now famous phrase, “essentially contestable’” (Geertz, 1973: 29). I address this by testing the construction of the familybond presented here against all 210 aid objective meetings across all fieldwork sites, looking for a ‘black swan’, and by conducting ‘auxiliary outcome' tests (Mahoney, 2010), including on divorce legislation, adoption legislation, and visual representations of the family. Indeed, Hann argues that ‘only through ethnographic research can we assess the extent to which a dominant discourse turns out to be a smokescreen, and the frequency with which moral norms are honoured in the breach’ (1996: 21).

The second challenge presented by this approach is the definition of culture (see van Oorschot, 2007). I do not frame the dominant discourse on the family-bond as ‘culture’, but as a narrowly defined Parsonian ‘value’ that has a legible impact upon policy implementation. This approach draws on Small et al., who argue that ‘the best approach is a pragmatic one... While the umbrella term “culture” might serve as useful shorthand... it ultimately masks more than it reveals, at least when the purpose is to understand a specific problem' (2010: 13-14).

The third challenge relates to causality. Baldcock avoids this by stating that his paper on culture is ‘no more than an exploration of how far “culture” and “social policy” might be linked’ (1999: 459). 1 am braver, or perhaps more foolish; drawing on Pfau-Effinger (2005), I suggest that policy implementation shapes the dominant discourse on the family-bond, and the dominant discourse on the family-bond shapes policy implementation.

The final challenge is that some ‘cultural interpretation is merely post facto: that, like the peasant in the old story, we first shoot the holes in the fence and then paint the bull’s-eyes around them’ (Geertz, 1973). Many cultural explanations for Japan’s limited use of foster care and adoption face this charge, attributing importance to ‘blood’ (Kadonaga and Fraser, 2015: 13) or ‘traditional views of the family’ (Kendrick et al., 2011: 6) without outlining mechanisms or evidencing these assertions.

Here 1 draw on Pfau-Effinger, who argues that ‘welfare culture and welfare state policies are connected via the ideas of social actors’ (2005: 6), and focus on the impact caseworkers’ values on the family-bond have on policy implementation. Investigating this requires an understanding of the power relations between actors (see Pfau-Effinger, 1998; Reinhold, 1994; Thelen,

1999), in this case between parents and CGCs (Chapter 6) and between CGC staff (Chapter 7).

Finally, I do not prioritise the impact of the caseworkers’ values and norms on policy implementation over other factors, also considering organisational context, resources, beliefs, and organisational cultures.

This chapter introduces the three key characteristics of the family-bond before deconstructing the family-bond. It then presents evidence for each of the characteristics before considering the impact of the construction of the family-bond on policy implementation.

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