Generational Transition and Transmission

Intergenerational transmission has a dynamic and open character and covers much more than the sheer adaption to or protest against parental values, norms and models of behaviour (Bertaux and Thompson 1993; Bertaux and Bertaux-Wiame 1997; Thompson 1997). As will be elaborated in Chap. 2, relational experience in families are loaded with emotional meaning, with ‘projections and identifications, love and anger, symbols and desires’ (Bertaux and Thompson 1993: 7). Issues of gender identification play a special role in intergenerational transmission, and feelings of gender originating in the familial context may be in tension or even contradiction with other gender lessons of the same family and beyond. There are several reasons why socialisation is not about mechanical learning or has deterministic outcomes. One is that the context for action changes over time—what is learnt will be put to use in new situations. Another is that experiences are processed psychologically and reconstructed over time in the light of new experiences. And, finally, this reconstruction or work of integration exceeds a purely reflexive or articulated level. What is transmitted may consist of more or less articulated feelings of self and others (Benjamin 1995; Layton 1998; Chodorow 1999; Chodorow 2012) or it may be a kind of knowledge embedded in everyday practices and relationships (Bourdieu 1990; Morgan 1999). Transmission may result in generational breaks and ambivalences, as well as in continuities and reproduction (Brannen 2015: 12; see also Bertaux and Bertaux-Wiame 1997).

The interviews in the project on which this book is based focus on childhood, youth and the transition to adulthood in each generation. This means that two temporal perspectives are combined: the process of transition from child to adult in each generation and the processes of transmission between generations. Seen together, these processes connect different historical moments of the life course, as well as different dimensions of meaning and practice within and between generations.

The ongoing dynamic in life transitions between societal change and a person’s psychological reconstruction of cultural and emotional gender will be approached as an interchange between gender identities (how I see my self as gendered), gendered subjectivities (the kind of person I am, how I feel) and sociocultural contexts (which potentials of my current gender identity and gendered subjectivity that are possible to express and pursue in a specific sociocultural context) (see also Nielsen and Rudberg 1994; Nielsen 1996, 2015; Thomson et al. 2011). Gender identities involve dimensions like belonging to a gender category, which can be felt as more or less certain or secure, the specific content of what it means to be a man/ woman, and whether this is felt as positive or not. Gendered subjectivities denote particular ways of being and relating produced by relational experience. It includes psychological capacities and orientations, for instance, the extent to which one is able to see others as separate subjects, the ability to be alone and close to others, or the kind of activities one feels drawn to. It also includes the intrapsychic conflicts that may exist in these matters and the defences that are mobilised. To the degree that such capabilities and conflicts are culturally gendered, the subjectivity can be relatively single-gendered or relatively multi-gendered. If multi-gendered subjectivities are lived with few intrapsychic tensions and defences, they may also be understood as degendered subjectivities. Gender identity and gendered subjectivity cannot be entirely separated empirically, but the concepts represent an analytical effort to grasp gender as both reflexive and non-reflexive. The floating border between gender identities and gendered subjectivities are taken into account by the comprehensive concept of ‘feelings of gender’.

As the interchange between gender identities, gendered subjectivities and sociocultural constraints and opportunities continues during the life course, relationships between parents and children will become part of it, and the personal stories of the parents and those of their children will cross each other at several points in time (see also Morgan 1999). In the empirical chapters (Chaps. 5, 6 and 7) we explore these interchanges through an analytical model that combines different aspects of the experiences of gender—practices, feelings and meanings—with the trippel temporal dimension of transition from childhood to adult life, from one generation to the next, and in changing historical contexts. Thus, on the one hand, the analysis connects different dimensions and areas of experiences within each generation and between women and men in this generation, and, on the other hand, links the generations to each other. The analytical model explores six areas of experience and how they are connected to each other within each generation, and how feelings, reflections and life choices[1] lead to the gendered practice that became the point of departure for the next generation. For each of the three generations, we look at the connections between:

  • 1. WORK: the perception of the division of work and care in their childhood families.
  • 2. RELATIONSHIPS: the feelings of gender that grew out of the relational experience connected with this division of work and care.
  • 3. BODIES: the feelings of gender with regard to sexuality, and to one’s own gendered body and those of others.
  • 4. REFLECTIONS: the ways in which these feelings of gender found their way into articulated reflections on gender.
  • 5. PRACTICES: the way in which one’s own family as an adult was organised, and the gendered division of work and care this implied.
  • 6. ATTITUDES: finally, how all these experiences are reflected in thinking about gender equality as a contemporary personal and political issue.

By combining intergenerational transmission with the changing sociocultural context, I am bringing together two meanings of generation.[2] One is the genealogical meaning, which points at the kinship position of being children, parents and grandparents. The other is the historical meaning, which sees generations as groups of people who share a distinctive culture or a self-conscious identity by virtue of having experienced the same historical events at roughly the same time in their lives (Alwin and McCammon 2004: 27). The idea of historical generations goes back to Karl Mannheim, who argued that people who share a common location in the social and historical process might establish such generational identities in the period of youth. In every such location, Mannheim says, there is ‘a tendency pointing towards certain definite modes of behaviour, feeling and thought’ (Mannheim 1952: 291). According to Mannheim, this plays a decisive role in historical change, as it will provide refreshed views at the passing on of social and cultural traditions, even though not all generations will be equally active and visible. In my analysis I focus more specifically on how different genders and generations display different patterns of feelings through the way they act and talk, directly or indirectly, about gender. Is it possible to see patterns that are more typical for one generation than for another? Are they equally clear and do they have the same consequences across social class? What is the connection between patterns within and between generations? I do not claim that the identified patterns fit everyone equally well, but that they may still crystallise into a shared feeling of ‘the way things are’, or a sense of life, in a given period of time (Williams 2011; see also Ellingsster and Widerberg

2012: 21). For instance, the generally positive relationships daughters had with their mothers in the eldest generation, and the generally much more negative relationships between mothers and the women in the middle generation emerge as a marked shift in the life-world between these two generations of women, in spite of the variation in mother-daughter relationships that is also always present. My aim is to trace the experiences during the life course that made women and men in different historical generations feel differently about gender and how this became a drive towards new life projects and changed gender relations. These feelings may also have consequences for what cultural values and political issues different people tend to identify or disidentify with. In the words of Raymond Williams, this is the real indication of change:

the absolute test by which revolution can be distinguished, is the change in the form of activity of a society, in its deepest structure of relationships and feelings. (1979, p. 420)

  • [1] The concept of ‘choice’ is in this book used to indicate a dimension of agency, but does not implythat agencies or choices are based on purely cognitive or rational deliberations (as in ‘rationalchoice’ theory). Life choices or life projects are seen as complicated outcomes dependent on manysources, some of which are the emotional or even unconscious meaning that the choice has for theacting person.
  • [2] The relationship between generation and cohort and how these concepts may be related to socialchange will be further discussed in Chap. 3.
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