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Bachrach Discusses New Cultural Model in Second Tay Gavin Erickson Lecture

Christine Bachrach

The Center for Research on Families was pleased to host Dr. Christine A. Bachrach’s recent visit where she gave this semester’s second Tay Gavin Erickson Lecture on February 21, 2013. Dr. Bachrach is a Research Professor at the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland and gave a presentation entitled, “Can Meanings be Modeled? Exploring a Neural Networks Model of Culture.” She has spent her career as a demographer working to understand cultural changes in family research and came to UMass to consult with Dr. Harold Grotevant, 2012-13 Family Research Scholar, on his research in the field of adoption.

After a long career at the National Institutes of Health where she focused on developing a quantitative approach to understanding culture in families, she found that demographers were not doing enough to look beyond the numbers.  To truly capture cultural change, she sought to model and measure changes in meanings. As a result, she developed the neural networks model for culture: a metaphor that she designed based on the way the brain organizes and preserves information.    

During her lecture, she used this model (see below) to describe the cultural changes in marriage by highlighting different schemas that have evolved over time. She discussed how male and female roles and understandings have changed in terms of financial support, parenting roles, sexual needs, and household responsibilities and used a network of color-coded webs to describe this change. While this is not an all encompassing model, Bachrach highlighted how this method improves on previous models because it provides a simple vocabulary and visual system that represents cultural themes and their shifts. This helps us reason with culture and cultural change in ways that have not been used with previous, more rigid models that do not capture the fluidity of culture. Bachrach is still in the early stages of developing this research and is working to find ways to successfully map concepts that continuously challenge demographers.

As part of the Center for Research on Families (CRF), the Tay Gavin Erickson Lecture Series brings nationally recognized speakers with expertise in family research to campus each year. The speakers provide public lectures, highlighting the importance of research on the family and its implications for public policy, and provide research consultation to CRF Family Research Scholars. The lecture series began in 1999 though an endowment established in memory of Tay Gavin Erickson. For a complete list of the lecture series, visit our upcoming events page.