Family Diversity and Individualisation after Socialism - Two Generations of Bulgarian Women Negotiate Their Intimate Lives
Birkbeck Institute for Social Research Birkbeck, University of London London, UK
Individualisation has become an influential, although contested (Jamieson, 1998), theory describing recent transformations in personal and social lives. A number of sociologists (Giddens, 1991; Beck, 1991; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2001; Bauman, 1994, 2005) have argued that recent years have seen significant loosening of traditional life boundaries through disintegration of previously existing social norms and categories like class, gender, family, occupation. As a result, there has been liberalisation of gender norms, creation of more flexible ideas of femininity and masculinity, and diversification of ways of "doing family" (Morgan, 1996) where the emphasis is put on choice, rather than marriage or blood ties.
This paper critically evaluates the extent to which individualisation theory can be applied to the transformation of family values and practices in post-socialist Bulgaria, which has performed a "plunge into modernity" (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2001: 2) after 1989. Drawing on recent qualitative semi-structured interviews with two generations of Bulgarian women the paper suggests that there are significant changes and continuities in family practices and values. Firstly, the paper focuses on the moral negotiation of existing norms and "new" unconventional practices within and between individuals and demonstrates how these processes have been different for the two generations. Secondly, the paper explores women´s experiences of unconventional family arrangements and suggests that these arrangements can be seen as based on individual choice, and not only on socio-economic context. Lastly, the discussion focuses on some cross-generational changes in gender power relations within the family and argues that women have to balance their independent sense of self with existing male expectations for dominance within the intimate sphere.
In conclusion, the author suggests that there is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of choice and individual circumstances in shaping intimate life journeys, but decisions are embedded in pre-existing gender unequal social contexts. Therefore, choices and practices related to family and other intimate relationships have to be seen as results from moral negotiation and non-negotiation occurring in the context of individualisation and continued importance of social structures.