Family trajectories and social networks: the lifecourse in an intergenerational perspective

Family trajectories and social networks: the lifecourse in an intergenerational perspective

One of the strongest features of the modernization of family life in Western societies is the diversification of the family trajectories of individuals, who are today able to construct their lives with greater freedom than in the past. The decline of marriage and of the birth-rate, the increase in the number of divorces and remarriages, and the emergence of alternative life-styles for couples, are all changes which have influenced the format of family trajectories and transformed the way individual and family lives mesh together. A second fundamental change
has taken place in the social networks of which individuals are a part throughout their lives. These have become more diverse, in terms of both function and internal organization, which is today focused more on elective affinities than on the strict limits of kinship ties. Even though the thesis of the isolation of the nuclear family has been largely refuted and family support has been shown to be durable, we have still not identified the ways in which individuals (re-)build their social networks over the course of their lives. Moreover, there is a need to examine the equilibriums between blood or alliance bonds and ties of affinity, as well as to describe the diverse functions of networks. A fundamental challenge for researchers is to outline the linkages between trajectories and social networks.
This project looks at both sets of issues, bringing together two theoretical strands and setting out to achieve two main aims. (1) On the one hand, it reconstitutes the family trajectories of Portuguese men and women of different generations, adopting a life course analytical approach. The project examines the shape and diversity of trajectories, focusing on significant biographical turning-points in the individual's personal and family history. (2) On
the other hand, the project analyses the impact of those trajectories, marked by different transitions, on individuals' networks of family and social relations.
In sum, this project examines the hypothesis that the diversification of family trajectories, based on the multiplication of possible (individual, conjugal and parental) transitions, has helped to reshape the structure and functions of individuals' social relations (of kinship, but also of friendship and acquaintance; of support, but also of sociability). The birth of a child, divorce and remarriage, unemployment or any critical moment of transition may lead to unexpected rearrangements of the individual's network of relations. The increased complexity of individual lifecourses affects not only conjugal and parental dynamics, but also primary social relations as a whole.
In addition to repositioning family trajectories in their wider relational context, this research project also sets out to compare three generations of men and women, connecting family time to social time and to inter-generational change. For each generation we analyze the main features of the social network, assessing the impact of different family trajectories on the present. The inter-generational perspective makes it possible to monitor the ways in which trajectories have become diversified over recent decades, and to compare the impact of lives constructed in different historical periods on individuals' networks. The combination of these two elements follows recent trends in research, highlighting the linkages between the life course and social and historical change.
In methodological terms the study adopts a theoretical approach which conceptualizes family trajectories, social networks and the generations within a framework of two other social cleavages: gender and class. We will accordingly select men and women between the ages of 30 and 65 living in various types of households (singly or as couples, with or without children) and having different educational and occupational attainment levels. Each generation of interviewees represents a different period of entry into adult life. Those aged between 30 and 40 belong to a generation whose life course has taken place while Portugal has been a member of the European Union. The intermediate generation, aged between 40 and 55, reflects the nation which witnessed the enormous social changes following the revolution of 25 April 1974; and the generation of those aged between 55 and 65 carries the legacy of the Estado Novo.

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
Yes

One of the strongest features of the modernization of family life in Western societies is the diversification of the family trajectories of individuals, who are today able to construct their lives with greater freedom than in the past. The decline of marriage and of the birth-rate, the increase in the number of divorces and remarriages, and the emergence of alternative life-styles for couples, are all changes which have influenced the format of family trajectories and transformed the way individual and family lives mesh together. A second fundamental change
has taken place in the social networks of which individuals are a part throughout their lives. These have become more diverse, in terms of both function and internal organization, which is today focused more on elective affinities than on the strict limits of kinship ties. Even though the thesis of the isolation of the nuclear family has been largely refuted and family support has been shown to be durable, we have still not identified the ways in which individuals (re-)build their social networks over the course of their lives. Moreover, there is a need to examine the equilibriums between blood or alliance bonds and ties of affinity, as well as to describe the diverse functions of networks. A fundamental challenge for researchers is to outline the linkages between trajectories and social networks.
This project looks at both sets of issues, bringing together two theoretical strands and setting out to achieve two main aims. (1) On the one hand, it reconstitutes the family trajectories of Portuguese men and women of different generations, adopting a life course analytical approach. The project examines the shape and diversity of trajectories, focusing on significant biographical turning-points in the individual's personal and family history. (2) On
the other hand, the project analyses the impact of those trajectories, marked by different transitions, on individuals' networks of family and social relations.
In sum, this project examines the hypothesis that the diversification of family trajectories, based on the multiplication of possible (individual, conjugal and parental) transitions, has helped to reshape the structure and functions of individuals' social relations (of kinship, but also of friendship and acquaintance; of support, but also of sociability). The birth of a child, divorce and remarriage, unemployment or any critical moment of transition may lead to unexpected rearrangements of the individual's network of relations. The increased complexity of individual lifecourses affects not only conjugal and parental dynamics, but also primary social relations as a whole.
In addition to repositioning family trajectories in their wider relational context, this research project also sets out to compare three generations of men and women, connecting family time to social time and to inter-generational change. For each generation we analyze the main features of the social network, assessing the impact of different family trajectories on the present. The inter-generational perspective makes it possible to monitor the ways in which trajectories have become diversified over recent decades, and to compare the impact of lives constructed in different historical periods on individuals' networks. The combination of these two elements follows recent trends in research, highlighting the linkages between the life course and social and historical change.
In methodological terms the study adopts a theoretical approach which conceptualizes family trajectories, social networks and the generations within a framework of two other social cleavages: gender and class. We will accordingly select men and women between the ages of 30 and 65 living in various types of households (singly or as couples, with or without children) and having different educational and occupational attainment levels. Each generation of interviewees represents a different period of entry into adult life. Those aged between 30 and 40 belong to a generation whose life course has taken place while Portugal has been a member of the European Union. The intermediate generation, aged between 40 and 55, reflects the nation which witnessed the enormous social changes following the revolution of 25 April 1974; and the generation of those aged between 55 and 65 carries the legacy of the Estado Novo.

Objectivos: 
<p>The aim of this project is to understand the interrelationship between family trajectories and social networks. Drawing on a life course (longitudinal) approach, empirical research will reconstitute the trajectories of men and women and analyse their impact on individuals' networks. Structural and functional features of networks will be examined. Our central hypothesis is that the diversification of family trajectories influences the range and complexity of individuals' social relations. The project sets out to compare three generations of men and women, thereby connecting family time to social and inter-generational change.<br /><br />Quantitative and qualitative methodologies will be used. A national survey, representing three generations and different social classes, will be carried out; interviews with 48 men and women will examine the subjective nature of trajectories and relational contexts in greater depth.<br /><br />Comparison with qualitative data from another European country will also be possible. Analysis of statistical data and family policies are complementary stages of the project.</p>
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/12/2007
End Date: 
30/11/2010
Duração: 
35 meses
Closed