Of selection and affinity: rethinking family and family relations in an intergenerational perspective
Institute of Social Sciences University of Lisbon Portugal,
Department of Sociology Lisbon University Institute (ISCTE) Lisbon, Portugal
Family affinity and selectivity may be contemporary categories emerging from individualization processes. However, the processes that underlie the making of affinities and the selectivity criteria within the family are not just modern. Traditional families had their own mechanisms of selection. Moreover, institutional families had selection as one of their basic procedures. Paradoxically, although the idea of selective affinity is a modern one, modern family ideology prescribes equal treatment and non-selectivity in parent-child relationships. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the complexity of affinity as a concept suitable to account for the specific dynamics of family relations in an intergenerational perspective.
On the basis of 60 in-depth life narratives of 10 male and 10 female three-generation lineages from urban Lisbon and rural, semi-industrialized, Mondim de Basto (northern Portugal), we analyse two main processes of making family relationships. First, we focus on the building up of close relationships by looking at the ways through which individuals establish social affinities and are selective in the choice of their intimates, even when dealing with their parents or offspring. Men and women from different generations and social milieus may have different patterns of individualisation and family institutionalism, but they are always selective in family relationships, albeit using different criteria for selectivity. Secondly, we not only analyse these modalities of selectivity, but also examine them in terms of intergenerational reciprocity. The narrative method with which intimate relationships were reconstituted allows us to see if the three generations include each other in their specific social network, thus identifying the motivations and roles that underlie their inclusion or exclusion. Overall, we observe that in older and more traditional generations, family selectivity is more dependent upon the fulfilment of certain normative expectations regarding material/daily support/availability and role conformity. In younger and more individualized generations, selectivity is further expressed through the emphasis on specific individual and relational characteristics.