9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN13 Sociology of Families and Intimate Lives

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Individualization and Family Practices Building II, Auditório B1.04

Continuity and Change in 20th Century Irish Family Lives: Individualization or Adaptation?

During the heyday of modernization theory, sociologists emphasized the exceptional character of "the Irish family". However, more recent scholarship has concluded that Irish family patterns converged rapidly towards those of other western societies from the 1960s through the 1980s, followed by a period of relative stability during the "Celtic Tiger" period of the 1990s. Scholars no longer subscribe to the notion of Irish "exceptionalism", but the distinctive timing and sequencing of family change in Ireland make it an interesting case with which to evaluate contemporary scholarly debates surrounding individualization and the de-standardization of the life course.
This paper draws on a unique database of life history interviews in order to investigate the dynamic relationships amongst changing social structural contexts, new values and attitudes, and innovative family life behaviour in Ireland. The "Life Histories and Social Change" project collected in-depth life story interviews and formal life history calendars from members of three birth cohorts of Irish people who had participated in the European Community Household Panel (between 1994 and 2001). In all, 117 respondents were interviewed for our project (which was funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences). We argue that, while there have been marked shifts both in the timing and sequencing of family life transitions, and in values and orientations, leading to greater diversity in family household composition in Ireland, these changes are better understood as adaptations within an enduring commitment to stable family ties than as a secular trend towards individualization and transience. The paper also aims to highlight the usefulness of combining quantitative and qualitative longitudinal data for explaining long-term patterns of family change.