- Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible by Philip N. Cohen
By Philip N. Cohen
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018. 272 pages. https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520292390/enduring-bonds
Philip Cohen has a lot of beefs. Hanna Rosen is an " antifeminist" (p.134) prone to "errors and distortions" (p. 146), and a "record of misstating facts in the service of inaccurate conclusions" (p. 185); W. Bradford Wilcox offers an "interpretation not just wrong but the opposite of right" (p. 76) and elsewhere gives a "racist" interview (p. 175); Ron Haskins, a "curmudgeon" (p. 175), presents a meme that's "stupid and evil" (p. 47); David Blankenhorn is the author of a "deeply ridiculous" article (p. 80); Christina Hoff Sommers speaks in "[a] voice [that] drips with contempt" (p. 200) and is deemed to be an "antifeminist" (p. 155), even though she's later identified as a feminist (p. 197). After all that, I was mildly surprised not to see my own name on Cohen's enemies list given that he's taken it to me on his blog a couple of times.
Also making the list: Paula England, for her "disappointingly mild" review of Cohen's Public Enemy Number One, the "obtuse, semi-coherent" (p. 106) and "simply unethical" (p. 91) Mark Regnerus. Indeed, 29 of the 209 pages of Cohen's book are spent excoriating Regnerus for two different studies. Yet England, a former president of the American Sociological Association and one of the world's foremost family scholars, shows up only this once.
Enduring Bonds is a collection of posts from Cohen's Family Inequality blog, interwoven with an exiguous connective tissue. Cohen generally writes two different kinds of blog posts. Some contain original data analysis, and these are the strongest portions of the book. Cohen's takes on the demography of Detroit, occupational gender differences, and the tough marriage markets African American women face are insightful. I would welcome a book of content like this, as Cohen has a knack for clear writing about quantitative data. But much of Enduring Bonds is social and academic criticism, and Cohen writes so tendentiously that the useful bits get carried away in a torrent of ad hominem asperity.
There are formidable organizational challenges in turning a series of blog posts like Cohen's into a book. Page 30 transitions from some interesting data on the relationship between religious beliefs and homophobia right into a discussion of Margaret Mead's 1932 inquiry into the nature of childhood. And sometimes contradictions emerge in these quick transitions. On pages 15 and 16 we learn that the word "parenting" probably didn't appear in print until 1918, and into the mid 1960s basically registered zero on Google Ngram (a count of times a word or phrase appeared in print). How does this square with "bursts of activity" published on the topic of parenting in the late 19th century (p. 17)? Is the point simply that "parenting" is a relatively modern word? Of course, the relatively recent advent of childhood as a protected status won't be news to anyone who's taken or taught a course on the sociology of the family, but these readers may well be daunted by the inconsistencies in its presentation here.
To some extent it's understandable that material drawn from different blog post would sometimes result in inconsistencies. But that can't explain digressions that sometimes appear within book sections (which presumably demarcate individual blog posts). On page 79, in the middle of a page sticking it to activist David Blankenhorn for feckless attempts at marriage promotion, appears a paragraph sticking it to rich people for trying to screw the rest of us out of our fair share of the pie. I'm not unsympathetic to Cohen's arguments, and I imagine that he could have produced two separate blog posts of social commentary on these broadly unrelated topics. But this material doesn't hold together that well in a single blog post, let alone in a monograph.