Ten Generations – Three Centuries

Ten Generations – Three Centuries: A Finnish History as Family Stories

Daniel Bertaux and Paul Thompson have pointed out how important for our culture is the transmission between generations. They write: ‘Because culture is the essence of what makes individual humans into a group, the core of human social identity, its continuity is vital.’  To transmit human and material capital, property, occupational facilities and skills, education, social networks, preferences, and orientation from one generation to the next is an immanent feature of culture and society. The aim of my study is to re-construct three hundred years ofFinland’s history through the life histories of hundreds of Finnish families comprising more than one hundred thousand individual life stories. This history will be seen as temporally social networks of individual actors.

In this study, special attention will be paid to an intergenerational transmission of occupation and social positions, including social mobility and impoverishment in a historical perspective. The research period covers such processes as industrialisation and urbanisation, modernisation, de-industrialisation and globalisation which have created the changing historical contexts for the lives of successive generations. Usually such processes have been interpreted as external factors modifying individual life courses and family histories. In this study, the construction of these phenomena will be analysed through thousands of individual actions by actors who were engaged in these processes. Theoretically Giovanni Levi’s, James Coleman’s and Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of different forms of capital and the mechanisms how they are inherited are in a key role in the study.

The methodological point is to study and define the factors that have maintained continuity at individual and family level on the one hand and caused mobility on the other. The study will focus on two possible breakages in continuity: the processes of intergenerational transmissions and the turning points of individual life courses. The former refers to the uneven practises of material, social and human inheritance, the latter to the factors that have changed the expected life course: education, the place of residence, or job, marriage, divorce, illness, ageing etc. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, these breakages will be analysed by comparing factors depending on the period, residential area, sex, ethnic origin, social networks, class and occupation.

After the Second World War the study of social mobility has been one of the major areas of sociological and historical research.  The specific feature of such research field is that phenomena are understood as long-term, intergenerational continuities in which material, human and social capitals are resources that are both inherited and exploited during ones’ life time.  My study will give basic knowledge about the long-term mechanisms of social mobility and impoverishment. It strives to understand how individuals and families manage their material, human and social capitals when faced with profound economic and social changes, such as urbanisation, industrialisation and de-industrialisation, or institutional changes associated with first modernisation and later with globalisation. It aims to discuss, develop and qualify the forms and meanings of different modes of capital in the processes of transmission between generations and in individual life courses.