Generational Patterns as Normative Creations

When many people in a generation share the same feelings towards something, they tend to react in much the same way to new societal opportunities, for instance, investing in the same kind of new family model. In this way the model gradually becomes a social norm, which may be experienced as hegemonic or even coercive for those who do not feel at home in it. Hence, if new life projects are shared by many in the same generation, they may contribute to the social transformation of gender, although often in more incremental and less obvious ways than the kind of changes that are articulated within political contexts or public cultural discourses. The North American historian John Modell argues for a social-historical approach to the life course, which can grasp the twoway relationships between large-scale historical change and the way in which individual lives are lived: individual experiences during periods of change may aggregate to constitute a new context for others living through these changes: ‘Even “kids” can make history, as their choices aggregate into behavioural patterns and, rationalized, become normative’ (Modell

1989: 22). Thus, cohort effects may indirectly constitute normative patterns and feed into new generational identities. Bertaux and Thompson argue along the same lines when they say that ‘a sufficient minority’ can contribute to the momentum of change: by ‘voting with their feet, they can transform the structures of social space or demography’ (Bertaux and Thompson 1997: 2). Beck and Beck-Gernsheim make a similar point when they talk about how ‘new normal biographies’ are produced by numerous small steps that simultaneously may have a dimension of adaption and yet over time aggregate to a challenge of the existing conditions (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002: 55, 76). This excludes neither variations and tensions within such patterns, both in accordance with class difference and individual variation, and between women and men in the different generations, nor the existence of other patterns in different subgroups.

Social and geographical mobility is characteristic for times of industrialisation and post-industrialisation. There have been typical social pathways understood as trajectories of education, work, family patterns and places to move from and to (Elder et al. 2003: 8). As many studies have indicated, there are often personal costs associated with a class journey (Walkerdine 1990; Mahony and Zmroczek 1997; Lawler 1999; Trondman 2010). In particular, studies from the UK emphasise that class travellers experienced their families to hold them back and not being supportive to their upward mobility (Bertaux and Thompson 1997: 23; Lawler 2000: 112; Brannen 2015: 143). The sample analysed in this book is taken from a Norwegian context and the Scandinavian story appears to be somewhat different here. Due to the cultural and political emphasis on equality and the relatively high social security provided by the welfare state (see Chap. 4), the Scandinavian version of the class journey associated with industrialisation and de-industrialisation came to resemble a ‘group travel’ rather than the individual travels depicted in the British studies, and this collective character may have allayed some of the cultural and psychological ambivalences. The Norwegian sociologist Ivar Frones has compared this kind of mobility to a lock chamber: you are lifted onto a new level together with many others in your cohort and thus never leave the space perceived as ‘normal’ (Frones 2001). The foremost example of this kind of collective class journey is the generation born after the Second World War. A large number of young people could at that point take advantage of an expanding and free educational system, rising material standards in their families and a restructured labour market, and become urban middle class. The process altered the class composition in Norway from being a society of mostly small farmers, fishermen and workers to a society where the most ‘normal’ is to be middle class or lower middle class (Ringdal 2010). The difficulties for those who were not part of this collective journey may have increased, but it reduced the strain on those who left: ‘Many made a small class journey without giving it much thought’, as the Swedish sociologist Mats Trondman expresses it (Trondman 2010: 252). Furthermore, the process of geographical and social mobility took place over two or three generations and was characterised by a sequence of short-distance moves (only one move up in relation to the class of origin) (Ringdal 2010). Even if the class journey did take you away from your family of origin and could be marked by a sense of dislocation, it was simultaneously often part of a generational ‘relay race’ in the family. The compressed story of modernisation in combination with these gradual moves and the support from the welfare state have contributed to a perception of the journey as a move from rural to urban culture rather than from working class to middle class, as was the case in the UK. Thus, the character of this particular period of social mobility in Norway meant travelling along with and not against the shifting notions of what was considered normal and expected. Another way to say this is that we have here a case where staying within the hegemonic pattern and at the same time contributing to social change have been two sides of the same coin. The collective class journey provided a bigger space and a more privileged position in relation to contributing to new cultural forms, often complex and heterogeneous, reflecting both the culture of origin, the impact from educational institutions, new demands in work life and other current cultural and social impulses (Frones 2001; Nielsen and Rudberg 2006). Some of the new things to be invented on the way were the norms and practices of modern gender equality. Thus, the generational sample in our study aggregates into normative patterns not only because it belongs to the majority with regard to ethnicity and sexuality, but also because it is typical for the specific type of urbanisation and social mobility that took place in Norway during the twentieth century.

Whereas our sample is geared towards illuminating incremental changes taking place in majority groups, it is important to keep in mind that many aspects of the social transformation of gender may not be covered. The design does not include people who in the course of these three generations did not move to the city, and only to some degree those who did not enter a generational process of social mobility. The sample cannot say anything particular about the situation of people who stayed single, who did not have children, or who identified as gays, lesbians, bisexual or transgender, or the new immigrant population, who started to arrive in limited numbers in the early 1970s. What the sample can say something about is how majority groups who live the normative and hegemonic gender order of its time and class, in the course of generational transmission, may also contribute to the social transformation of gender. It is the significance of the changing patterns of feelings of people living different kinds of ‘normalised’ lives at different points of time that I explore here.

 
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