Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Historical Testimony and Social Transformation on Memory Processes in Farmer and Steelworker Families in Luxembourg

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Historical Testimony and Social Transformation on Memory Processes in Farmer and Steelworker Families in Luxembourg

Article excerpt

FAMILIAL MEMORIES OF SOCIAL CHANGE

"National memory culture" has become an important research topic in recent years-in the small country of Luxembourg as well as elsewhere, as is proven by the recent pubücation of a comprehensive study on Luxembourgish lieux de mémoire.1 Besides the preoccupation with pubtic memory, a current research project at the University of Luxembourg turns to more private and everyday forms of tradition and the reception of public discourses in private or familial memory processes. Here, the family is perceived as an important realm of memory production and preservation and as an instance in the formation of coUective representations of identity.2 Apart from memories of the Second World War and German occupation-grand historical events that play an important role in the national setf-narration-we are studying historical processes that are less prominent in pubtic memory discourse but have nonetheless a decisive impact on Luxembourgers' self-conception. Among other things, we are interested in processes of change within the steel industry and agriculture, two domains that profoundly shaped the country before it turned into an international financial centre and the location of European instimtions. Our contribution wiU concentrate on these domains and ask whether, besides major historical events Uke that of the Second World War, experiences of gradual change are also transmitted from one generation to the next and, if this is the case, how the process of transmission is realized within the family.

Empirical studies on famüy memory that are concerned with specific social milieus are rare,3 and, what is more, research on processes of famiUal tradition often does not mention the socio-cultural situation of the families studied.4 In many cases however, research conditions imply that the famiUes involved belong to the middle class (cf. Remer et al., 1998:1196). Another limitation is perhaps related to this, namely the fact that research concentrates on nuclear famiUes, i.e., on parents and their children.5 In our study, on the other hand, we are dealing with famiUes that belong to non-bourgeois mitieus. In addition, we do not limit our empirical investigation to the nuclear famüy but conduct semi-structured narrative interviews with "three-generation-famiUes."6 A methodological strength of our approach consists in the fact that we have both family and individual interviews at our disposal, which allows us to address the problematic connection between autobiographical and famiUal remembering and to put into question the notion of biographical seU-narration and of particular forms of family communication linked to it. Moreover, the combination of the two interview forms also brings to the fore the tink between family memory and collective memory: is the family an agent of a coUective memory which transcends the realm of the individual family-of a "farmers' memory" and a "workers' memory," as it were? Or is this coUective memory formed above aU in other social relations, i.e., besides or in contrast to familial memory processes?

The two chosen milieus-farmers and steelworkers-are weU-suited for a comparative approach in more than one respect. Both groups have undergone drastic economic and socio-cultural change in recent decades leading to a more or less complete loss of their traditional Lebenswelt. Moreover, both groups have continuaUy decreased in number during the decades foUowing the Second World War and today represent social minorities. At the same time however, there are important differences between the two groups regarding the experience of individual and social development. On the one hand, these discrepancies relate to traditional concepts of work and transformation: The notion of coUective achievement ("creation of national wealth") and the public representation thereof can rather be found in the working-class than in the peasantry. The latter, although being the "nurturer of the nation," is strongly characterized by famitial egoisms and property chauvinism. …

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