Intergenerational Reciprocity the Idealization of the Interchangeability of Phases of Life

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:40 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Andreas GOETTLICH , Sociology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany
Among the prominent concepts used for the sociological description of intergenerational relations is the one of reciprocity. Adopted from predecessors in cultural anthropology, the term was coined by thinkers like Gouldner in the perspective of exchange theory, thereby ignoring other traditions of thought. In the course of time, analyzing intergenerational relationships in terms of exchange theory got confronted with growing problems. It became clear that the “goods” exchanged between generations are not equivalent, that this exchange extends over enormous spans of time, and that donors often are not rewarded by the original recipients. Theorists reacted by introducing additional elements: the double-pole relation was extended to a three-pole relation, time was neutralized in the idea of generalized reciprocity, and models were assembled that allowed the translation of actually incommensurable goods like money, affection, or care. Thus, the initially attractively simple conception became pretty complex and confusing.

Drawing from the phenomenological school of thought, the presentation aims at breaking through to the dimension of reciprocity that lies “behind” its behavioral occurrence. Reciprocation as an action generally rests on the cognitive assumption of reciprocity, as described by Alfred Schutz in the so-called general thesis of the reciprocity of perspectives. Applying this fundamental figure of human understanding to the case of intergenerational relations, the idealization of the interchangeability of phases of life is being introduced. This figure of thought allows for an account of the interaction between Young and Old which avoids the incompatibilities that exchange theory has ravelled into.