Findings II: The Discourse of Demand

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Just as selection and interpretation made my analysis of the discourse of supply possible, these are the enabling conditions of this second analysis. That is, in order to say anything at all about my data, I have had to choose only a few elements on which to concentrate my thinking; and to discuss those elements within a specific, limited frame. That such is the nature of analysis all scholars know, but qualitative researchers, perhaps, know this most acutely. The data which I analyze as the discourse of demand comes from my interviews, conversations and relationships with seven primary informants and twenty-seven other "research acquaintances". Though my analysis will necessarily require a selection and reduction of this data, I have chosen to begin with brief biographical profiles of each of my seven primary informants to convey the in vivo nature of my research.

The discourse of demand I elicited from my informants is not merely data: it must also be seen as the thoughts, ideas, analyses and strategic interpretations of reasoning social agents engaged in "a definite mode of life"--that is, engaged in reproducing the conditions of their existence meaningfully as well as materially (Marx and Engels 1965:32). (footnote 24) I have chosen to begin my discussion with biographical portraits of my main informants so my reader will have: some sense of them as social beings; some sense of my relationships with them; and some sense of my object of analysis as a mode of life.

Profiles of Main Informants


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I have been working with Maggie, my key informant, since the summer of 1990. At that time she had just moved into a new tract house in Lancaster with her husband of five years and her five year old daughter from her first marriage. Her second husband, James, is my elder brother and it was this connection that both sparked my research interests and served as my entrŽe to the field site. Since 1985, I had been visiting my brother in Antelope Valley and, in these brief visits, had developed a curiosity about the region. My brother, an engineer, moved to Lancaster in 1984 to take a job with an aerospace firm. Maggie had been James' secretary, but after their marriage in 1985, she left full-time employment in the labor market to become a home-maker and to pursue, on a part-time basis, a bachelor's degree at Antelope Valley Community College.

Maggie was born in 1953 in Florence, Arizona. Her father managed 15 lumber yards and her mother taught in a public school. Her mother's family lived in the Antelope Valley and her mother worked as a crop-picker before the Second World War. During the war, her mother became a Women's Army Service Pilot, flying supply planes out of Sweetwater, Texas. After the war, Maggie's mother attended the University of Arizona on the GI. Bill. There, she met and married Maggie's father, also a University of Arizona graduate. Both of her parents excelled academically and "both were in the Who's Who in Arizona", Maggie informed me. When she was 12, Maggie's parents divorced "because [her] mother had a terrible chemical and substance abuse problem". Her mother moved back to Antelope Valley "because she had family there" and Maggie remained in Arizona, graduating from Central High in Phoenix in 1971. "Then", Maggie tells me, "I enrolled in U. of A., just like my parents, but was back and forth to Antelope Valley to help take care of my mother". "I was in and out of five different colleges and universities, taking semesters off to go help my mom". "On January 3rd, 1975", Maggie moved back to the Antelope Valley for what turned out to be a stay of eighteen years. As she relates: "I was working full-time as an administrative assistant at Cerro Coso Community College, which has a satellite campus out at Edwards Air Force Base for the GIs, taking care of my mom at night and taking courses towards my Associates degree".

After getting her Associates degree, "a two-year degree", she explains, in response to my asking if this were a Bachelors degree, Maggie became the Senior Administrative Assistant of Cerro Coso's satellite campus. As she says: "I had passed out of their upper level exams and done really well and they really liked me there, so I was also able to start teaching at the College, Office Careers, I taught Office Careers and was working full-time, running the Satellite Center and taking courses towards my Bachelors." This period of working full-time and studying part-time lasted eight years.

In 1977, Maggie married her first husband, the father of her daughter, Molly, born in 1983. Her first husband, born and raised in Antelope Valley, was "always a civil servant, first a fire-fighter, then a Forest Service ranger ". The couple separated in "early 1983...because I got pregnant, he didn't want any children and I wouldn't get an abortion", Maggie explains. "I worked cleaning IVAC machines", she continues, "intravenous machines...just grunt work on the night shift that nobody else wanted, taking care of Molly in the day, just working as a grunt, until January, 1984, when James [her second husband] hired me as a Senior Secretary" at the aerospace company where he was a Methods Engineering Manager. James and Maggie were married on July 13, 1985, in South Lake Tahoe, California.

After their marriage, Maggie and James bought "an old home" (i.e. a non-tract home built in the Antelope Valley during the Korean War housing boom). James continued to commute in to Los Angeles three to five days a week and work the remaining days, including Saturday, at his company's plant in Antelope Valley. Maggie worked "two small part-time jobs, to enrich [her] life", managed the household, and, off and on, took courses towards her undergraduate degree.

In 1987, Maggie and James sold their first house and moved into a rented one, also in Lancaster, as part of their family financial planning. They intended to save money toward the purchase of a newer home, not necessarily for its use-value, but because such a home would be "a tax write off". The following excerpt from one of my interviews with Maggie makes this intention clear and details the reasons she and her husband chose to buy one of the model homes used by developers to display and sell tract houses:

ME: I'm going to ask you to think back to three years ago when you bought this house and think of some of the reasons that you, at that time, that you two wanted to own a home.

MAGGIE: Oh well, it was purely financial. We had owned another home and it was too old and we needed an investment for tax write-off ......... We thought a new homes were appreciating in the Valley, it was a building we looked at some and focused on a model home.....because my husband at that time that I was married ...had no time at all to spend at home....He was a manager.... a very up and coming professional guy in aerospace and [his company] required a lot of time of him and so he wasn't able to tinker around the house and put a patio in three years....and not really oriented toward that type of thing, so we looked for model homes that were affordable and already had the extras.....and this suited our purposes and was affordable and so we purchased it..... and it was only for an investment....We planned to stay here two to two and a half years, sell it at a $30,000 dollar profit....get enough money for a down on another place ...and ...and ...find somewhere that Molly and I could pursue our interests while James was at work, which was land to raise animals, to garden.

In 1989, Maggie, James and Molly moved into their new house, a two story, three bedroom structure on a corner lot in a tract development called Lancaster Station II. Shortly after this, in the summer of 1990, I began interviewing Maggie as the first step in my research on home ownership and furnishing in Antelope Valley's growing "new home communities". At the end of 1991, two and a half years after purchasing their new house, Maggie and James separated and filed for divorce. Though the word "amicable" seems misplaced in such a context, their divorce may, at least, be described as without rancor. The soon to be ex-couple put their house on the market, but Maggie and Molly remained in residence, while James moved to a rented apartment in Palmdale, on the Valley's south end. Maggie became a full-time student, working to complete her Bachelors degree before her spousal support runs out. She is pursuing a degree in Science and Technology from California State University and plans to earn a teaching credential so she can support herself and her daughter as a public school teacher. She is also working towards certification as a paralegal because, as she says, "I know I can always pay bills doing paralegal work". Maggie explains her future plans, saying: soon as I get my degree, we'll be leaving California.....I subscribe to a Tennessee paper now, I have things from Idaho, literature from New Mexico.....and we'll leave to a state that has a larger education budget....and um.... smaller....per capita ....communities...and we'll find a real small community... ...'cause I'm going to be dirt poor being a teacher...

At the end of 1992, Maggie and James' house in Lancaster Station II remained unsold. Wishing to extricate herself from this tie to her ex-husband and to a property that was proving difficult to liquidate, Maggie signed over title to the house and moved with her daughter to a rented house in Bakersfield, about 70 miles north of Antelope Valley. At present, she is still working towards her degree, and teaching and paralegal certifications, expecting to complete this education by May, 1994.

Vincent and Laura

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I met Vincent and Laura during my initial period of fieldwork in Antelope Valley. They lived (and still live) across the street from Maggie's house in Lancaster Station II. Maggie introduced me and my research interests to them in the summer of 1990 and this began a two and a half year relationship consisting of five lengthy, structured interviews, either video or audio-taped, and numerous participant-observation visits on both organized (birthday and Christmas parties) and impromptu (conversations on the front lawn) occasions.

Vincent and Laura had been living in their new house for a year and a half at the time I met them. Vincent was born in Antelope Valley and Laura's family moved there when she was eight. Vincent's father "was a laborer" and Laura's "a photographer for the aerospace companies". Both attended Antelope Valley High School, where they were "high school sweethearts". They graduated in 1981 and were married in 1986.

For the last twelve years, Vincent has been employed at US. Borax, a boron mining company in Victorville, about 45 miles southeast of Lancaster. Currently, he is a "supervisor, handling the automated part of the work", but is not in management. Though I never directly asked Vincent about the relative status of the job title "supervisor", I make this assertion based the fact of his union membership and on Maggie's observation that "he doesn't dress up and carries a lunch pail to work": signs she believes indicate a non-management position. For the last eleven years, Laura has worked as a dental hygienist for a dentist in Antelope Valley.

Shortly after their marriage, Vincent and Laura "bought a mobile home...a hallway size a mobile home save and buy a house". Their determination to realize the goal of homeownership is evident in the following statement Laura made about a doll I'd seen on her bedroom dresser.

....It's a Gibson Girl bride doll. Vincent gave that to me for our anniversary when we were saving to buy this house and we were bound and determined we weren't going to spend this extra money, "we're saving, we're saving, we're not going to do this"......I just..... I saw this and I just really liked it and he just couldn't resist, he surprised me with this bride doll.

After two and a half years of saving, Vincent and Laura bought their first house, a two story, three-bedroom dwelling on a corner lot in Lancaster Station II. They immediately embarked upon the long process of furnishing, decorating and landscaping their new home to suit their wishes.

By the time I first visited their house in 1990, Vincent and Laura had transformed their dwelling substantially, though they felt much more remained to be done. They had put a swimming pool in the back yard, complete with "lions heads that spit water" into it; built a patio at the rear of the house; planted a lawn and garden; and furnished every room. Indeed, it was their zeal for home decorating and improvement that led Maggie to suggest I interview this couple for my research. Maggie referred to Vincent as "the block's chairman of decor" and many other residents of Lancaster Station II told me that Vincent had given them landscaping advice, as well as physical assistance with such tasks as laying sod and making flower beds.

Though Vincent and Laura said, in 1990, that they did not plan to have children, they changed their minds and their daughter Victoria was born May 11, 1992. They attributed their change of heart to "family dynamics" and a desire to "focus on family". In 1991, Vincent's parents ended their marriage of more than 35 years in an acrimonious divorce; and later that year, Laura's father suffered a heart attack. These events may well have been the family dynamics that prompted the change, at least that is my informant Maggie's analysis of the change. In any case, the birth of their daughter marked a turning point in Laura and Vincent's lives as home owners. They put their house on the market, saying that they planned to move in to a mobile home so that "Laura can quit her job, go to school and be able to stay home with the baby".

Vincent and Laura's house remained on the market for almost a year. As Maggie put it in October, 1992: "They're stuck...they'll continue to work and she'll continue to pull seven in the morning to seven at night, dental hygienist hours in order to make the payment." Shortly before their daughter's first birthday in May, 1993, however, the situation changed. Laura found a job at a minimum security federal prison in Lancaster.

At the prison, Laura, another woman, and one dentist, take care of all the inmates' dental needs. Laura likes her new position because she is "doing both front and back office work, the hours are 7.30 a.m. to 3 p.m.", and she makes "real good money". This new job allows her to spend more time with her child. Moreover, because the clients she works with are prisoners, there are no after hours appointments and she no longer has to "kow tow to the dentist's wife". Because Laura's new job gives her more time at home, while also bringing in money for "the payment", Vincent and Laura took their house off the market in May, 1993. In spite of all the money and labor they have invested in it, Vincent says that their house in Lancaster Station II "is not going to be the house we live in for the rest of our lives". Yet for now, they are enjoying the new work situation and their new life as a family.

Betsy and Hope

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I met Betsy in the fall of 1990 at the university in Los Angeles where she works as an administrator. I came to know her in the course of my interactions with her office and we were casually acquainted even before she became my informant. In April 1992, it came up in conversation that I was doing research on Antelope Valley home owners. Betsy told me that she had bought a tract house in the Valley less than a year before. Thus, my acquaintance became my informant. This research relationship has consisted of: three extended structured interviews (the longest four hours and the shortest just over an hour) conducted in Betsy's house; a number of casual visits; and weekly conversations about the progress of my research and the film I have been making about it.

In the course of working with Betsy, I met her 16 year-old daughter, Hope, whom I jokingly call "my teen informant". Though I conducted two structured interviews with Hope, most of our relationship has consisted of participant-observation: I have accompanied her and her friends to Antelope Valley High School, the local malls, and the other places they "hang out". Since their life-histories are naturally intertwined, and Hope is really a secondary informant, I present mother and daughter together.

Betsy was born in Aitken, Minnesota in 1957. Her mother, a waitress, met her father, a military serviceman, during the post-War years and they were married shortly before he "shipped off" to serve in Germany. Betsy says that her father "was never around" and that she was conceived on one of his leaves back to "the States". While in Germany, her father met "someone else" and shortly after her birth, Betsy's parents were divorced. In 1960, Betsy's mother moved with her daughter to Long Beach, California, working, initially, as a waitress. Though she went to college "for awhile", Betsy's mother soon took a job "winding copper on the line" for an aerospace contractor. Betsy grew up in Southern California, living first in Long Beach, then Bellflower, and Lakewood, finally graduating from El Camino High School in Norwalk, in 1974.

Then, Betsy says, "I went to college, got pregnant and had a baby...I was nineteen years old". Though she was unmarried in 1976 when her daughter Hope was born, she eventually succumbed to family pressure, marrying Hope's father in 1978:

I didn't want to marry him before I got pregnant, so I didn't see why I should want to marry him after, but my family kept pressuring me to marry him, marry him, "'cause the girl needs a father". . . so I eventually did marry him.

After the birth of her daughter, Betsy left college and went to work as a computer operator for Hughes Aircraft. She and Hope's father were married for four years, during which time they moved to Texas, where he was from. In 1982, the couple divorced and Betsy and six-year-old Hope moved back to Southern California. Then, Betsy relates, "I moved to Norco and went to work for Dynalectron [Corporation] as a data conversion technician for a year, but I was drinking then and so I quit before I got fired". While at Dynalectron, she met and married her second husband, but this marriage lasted only eight months. She then went to work for Orion Pictures as a "data controller, computer operator", but once again, her drinking problem intervened and she "got fired". Betsy is now sober and though she is very open about her alcoholism, she, understandably, prefers that I not dwell on it.

In 1987, Betsy came to work as an Operations Supervisor in computing at the university where I met her. She started "going back to school at Cerritos Community College". At the University, Betsy met Mark, another staff member, and the two were married in 1989. Shortly after this, Betsy transferred to another department in the University, where she has now been promoted to Administrative Director. Though she works full-time and spends about twenty hours a week commuting, she takes evening and weekend classes, working toward an undergraduate degree in Mathematics at Antelope Valley Community College.

After their marriage, Betsy and Mark decided they were going to buy a house. Their reasons are elucidated by the following excerpt from one of our interviews:

ME: When you did decide to buy a house, what made it that moment that you decided to buy, were you just married?

BETSY: No...we had been married for over a year then, when we got married we decided, we were living in a fairly expensive apartment and we said we want to, we want to set this buy a house, so we moved into a cheap, little cheap house, so we were headed in this direction, but the reason we chose that moment...the biggest reason was because when we got our taxes done that year, we ended up having to pay a lot out....because our income was higher than our than.....our tax structure annnnn our, and our accountant....suggested that we get an investment which was to buy a house and so that's when we started looking....right after, right after the taxes in January of that year [1991].

ME: So it was more of an investment thing?

BETSY: Yes,...we'd wanted to a buy a house and we thought....y'know we'd been planning on it and that's why we moved into the small house that we were in, but was kinda rushed....because.....we decided if we waited, it would be worse for us and especially....the economy had really dropped down at that point, interest rates had gone down, the ummmmm.....the price of houses had gone down and we thought that at that point it would be good....wise.....wise thing for us to was pretty much money that pushed it on, we would have done it eventually, maybe not quite as soon.

In May, 1990, Betsy, Mark and Hope moved from Bellflower, a suburb of Los Angeles, to their new, three-bedroom house in a tract development in Lancaster.

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