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Cultural Practices That Sustain Family and Community Life

Laura L. Ellingson and Patricia J. Sotirin

Publication Year: 2010

Whether related by biology, marriage, circumstance, or choice, aunts embody a uniquely flexible familial role. The aunt-niece/nephew relationship—though often overlooked—is critical and complex, one that appears at the core of a resilient, healthy family life.

In this engaging book, Laura Ellingson and Patricia Sotirin construct a consideration of “aunts” that moves from noun to verb. “Aunts” is more than a group of people or a role; instead, “to aunt” is a practice, something people “do.” Some women “aunt” as second mothers, friends, or mentors, while others play more peripheral roles. In either case, aunts nonetheless significantly impact their nieces and nephews’ life choices.

Drawing on personal narratives that represent a rich cross section of society, Ellingson and Sotirin construct a cohesive story of the diversity of aunting experiences in the contemporary United States. Skillfully written, Aunting recovers the enormous potential of this dynamic kinship relationship and offers a model for understanding and supporting the variety of families in society today.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Table of Contents

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pp. xvii

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pp. ix-xiii

Whenever we tell people that we research aunts, their eyes light up and they inevitably launch into stories about their favorite, most eccentric, or most nurturing aunts. Aunts often play key roles in our lives, but seldom does anyone think to ask about them. Since this project began seven years ago, we have been overwhelmed with people’s desire to ...

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Introduction: Why Aunts?

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pp. 1-13

In writing about aunts, we necessarily explored personal experiences, family networks, social conditions, and cultural relations. A person cannot be an aunt without a recognized connection to others. So a book about aunts is a book about the dense, complex, and necessary relationships that support personal and family life. The answer to “Why ...

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1 Caring for Kin

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pp. 15-38

This description of a nurturing aunt from Celia, a 19-year-old African American niece, richly illustrates the importance of aunts to many nieces and nephews, as well as the value many aunts place on nurturing their kin. In addition to making caring inquiries and offering a refuge to family members in need ...

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2 Constructing Kin

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pp. 39-64

Scholars note that “contemporary extended family does not simply persist. Someone expends a great deal of time and energy to maintain it.”1 Aunts often function as that “someone.” Gretchen, a 50-year-old Polish/Irish American woman, described her role as primarily one of preserving family connections: ...

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3 Aunts at a Distance

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pp. 65-96

Thus far, we have emphasized the importance of aunts in the lives of their nieces and nephews and vice versa. In this chapter, we consider aunts who are not close to their nieces and nephews. Why do these distanced and sometimes unfriendly kinship relations still matter in the lives of aunts, nieces, and nephews? ...

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4 My Auntie, My Self

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pp. 97-124

The profound feeling of being understood and accepted for who she was by her aunt—indeed, having her sense of self enhanced because her “cool” aunt embraced who she was—had a significant, even “magical” impact on Ruth’s life. ...

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5 Mentoring and Modeling

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pp. 125-147

Mentors and role models are figures of guidance and wisdom who speak of and for the implicit expectations, responsibilities, and opportunities that a novice needs to know in choosing and following a particular path. Our participants offered many stories of aunts who provided critical models, life lessons, and mentorship for them throughout their lives. These stories point to ...

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6 Carrying on the Family

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pp. 149-168

Families persist. That is, even as families grow and change, family relationships continue. This is the case even when particular family members leave the family. They remain part of the family, if only as a memory or a story. The family also persists as a social institution. That is, the family as a legal, political, and cultural entity is a feature of our collective social life. Every society tells stories about what the family is and does ...

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Conclusion: Aunting in the 21st Century

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pp. 169-177

Muriel’s testament to the power of aunting offers a perfect coda to our analysis of aunting. As family communication researchers, we tell stories about what families are like and how aunting relationships are lived. The story we have told about aunting is both a representation of our participants’ characterizations and memories and a construction of possibility. We encourage a more expansive appreciation for the significance of aunting ...

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Appendix: Methodology

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pp. 179-183

This appendix elaborates on the details of data collection and analysis provided in the book’s introduction. For scholars, students, and others interested in understanding the methodology behind our study, we review our data collection strategies and further explicate both our theoretical approach and our analytical methods. ...


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pp. 185-200


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pp. 201-218


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pp. 219-223

E-ISBN-13: 9781602584853
E-ISBN-10: 1602584850
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602581524
Print-ISBN-10: 1602581525

Page Count: 247
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1