We grow up—so simple, it just seems to happen—and yet there are endless variations in the way we do it. What part does culture play in the process? How much do politics and economics have to do with it? As the nation has matured, have the ways people grow up changed too? This book traces the many paths to adulthood that Americans have pursued over time. Spanning more than two centuries of intense transformation in the lives of individuals and the life of a nation, Conflicting Paths is an innovative history of growing up in America.
Harvey J. Graff, a distinguished social historian, mines more than five hundred personal narratives for what they can tell us about the passage from childhood to maturity. Drawing on diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and letters, he builds a penetrating, complex, firsthand account of how childhood, adolescence, and youth have been experienced and understood—as functions of familial and social relations, as products of biology and physiology, and as cultural and political constructs. These first-person testimonies cross the lines of time and space, gender and class, ethnicity, age, and race. In these individual stories and the larger story they constitute, Graff exposes the way social change—including institutional developments and shifting attitudes, expectations, and policy—and personal experience intertwine in the process of growing up. Together, these narratives form a challenging, subtle guide to historical experiences and to the epochal remaking of growing up.
The most socially inclusive and historically extensive of any such research, Graff’s work constitutes an important chapter in the story of the family, the formation of modern society, and the complex interweaving of young people, tradition, and change.