Academic journal article Population

Between Socially-Instituted Parental Relationships and Elective Ones: A Retrospective Analysis of Parent Figures in France from 1930 to 1965

Academic journal article Population

Between Socially-Instituted Parental Relationships and Elective Ones: A Retrospective Analysis of Parent Figures in France from 1930 to 1965

Article excerpt

At a time when the broad diversity of family structures, newly emerging or otherwise, is reshaping the very notion of parenthood, this study aims to place current research and debate in a more long-term perspective by revisiting the parental and educational universe of the cohorts born between 1930 and 1950. In addition to biological parents, adoptive parents and step-parents, this paper also focuses on individuals mentioned by respondents as having played a parental role when they were children, and on their descriptions of the circumstances and histories of their childhoods. We propose a dual change of perspective. First, the parental relationship is not broached from the viewpoint of the adults who played a parental role but from that of the children, now adults. second, it is not restricted to biological or socially-instituted parents. While earlier studies examined elective parental relationships through adoption (Fine, 1998), we would like to expand this by analysing original material that provides a "practical" view of the relationship.

The Biographies et entourage (event histories and contact circle) survey retraced the family, residential and occupational trajectories of 2,830 individuals aged between 50 and 70 in the Paris region, and extended the field of observation to close friends and relatives. In this way the survey was able to locate individuals within their family group, and more broadly, in their families' sphere of influence, in order to understand the role of the family network in their life course and see how it evolved over time (Lelièvre and Vivier, 2001). The data collected enable us to reconstruct the respondents' situations at each moment in their history, not just within their own trajectories but also with respect to their close contact circle, the family circle in particular,(1) and to follow their progress.

When applied to a specific segment of this circle, namely the persons and institutions who comprised the parental and educational universe of the cohorts born between 1930 and 1950, analysis of this data of dynamic networks reveals that an extraordinary diversity of parental and educational entities took charge of these cohorts, in addition to their biological parents. Our research identifies the circumstances under which a parental function was exercised and the roles that parent figures incarnated in association - or in competition - with the biological parents. We endeavour to go beyond the family background to understand the social and historic context in which these cohorts grew up, and the framework in which these relationships were constructed. Lastly, by analysing respondents' descriptions of their parent figures, we attempt to identify the functions attributed to these "other parents" in order to examine the distribution of roles between the adults who made up the parental and educational universe of these cohorts, and to situate the "elective parents" who replaced or complemented the biological or socially-instituted parents.

In fact, over and above the empirical results we present here, this study raises questions of history, anthropology, sociology of the family and demography, paving the way for important methodological discussions. The results of our research into the little-known familial and extra-familial resources that were mobilized by the children and/or their families for educational purposes from the 1930s to the mid-1960s contribute to current debate and research on parenting.

I. The issue of parenthood in the Biographies et entourage survey

In the 2001 survey carried out by INED on 2,830 inhabitants of Ile-deFrance (Paris region), the parental universe included a range of figures: the biological parents or, if applicable, the adoptive parents, the mother or father's partner with whom the respondent had lived, along with any other person or persons identified by the respondent as playing a parental role. Box 1 provides details on the data collected on these various figures. …

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