I Get By with a Little Help from My Kin: The Advancement of Whole-Family Methodology for the Study of Multigenerational Mobility

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
Megan MACCORMAC, The University of Western Ontario, Canada
Although the evolution of Western society has become increasingly individualistic, it is an inevitable fact of life that people are born into a family under conditions that they do not have the ability to change. The family, as an institution, therefore plays an important role in facilitating an individual’s upward or downward trajectory of social mobility. Bertaux (1995) contends that although the family dimension of social mobility is paramount for understanding the life decisions of individuals, studies have largely neglected the extent to which ‘whole-families’ face issues of mobility over time by relying heavily on dyadic and individual models of family relations (Cox & Paley, 1997; Handel, 1965, 1987, 1996). This ‘artificial construction’ of how the family is viewed limits our capacity to understand family processes throughout time because only a fragment of family relationships within a family unit are being accounted for. This paper advances Handel’s 1989 work on ‘whole-family methodology’ to include extended kin relations for the study of multigenerational social mobility. Using data from pioneer settlers in Prince Edward Island Canada over four generations, I argue the methodological merits of utilizing a flexible framework combining historical data, the life course perspective, and whole-family methodology to observe interpersonal relations and processes of change that affect everyday family life. I demonstrate that conceptualizing processes of change from a ‘whole-family’ perspective over time can reveal important patterns of mobility variation of socially bonded individuals transitioning through different social structures over their life course. Including extended kin in the scope of observation for family mobility research expands our understanding of how families and individuals negotiate levels of autonomy and connectedness and aid one another towards upward social mobility.