An insight into a sociology lecture



Autonomy, homeownership and intergenerational relationships

My own research to date takes both generations and cohorts seriously. In Coming of Age in Times of Uncertainty I argue that the social conditions under which the baby boomers came of age facilitated the crystallization of a particular model of adulthood because there was a close match between the adult ideal and the conditions for its realization. For example, a policy orientation to fulltime (male) employment enabled ‘settling down’ in a range of ways. While the social conditions for the post-1970 generation have changed quite radically in many respects, expectations about what it means to be an ‘adult’ are slow in changing at best. And because the adult benchmark hasn’t changed, it goes almost without saying that people born after 1970 are all too easily judged as delaying their adulthood, or prolonging their adolescence – a judgement made by social commentators, journalists and social scientists alike. I then go on to suggest that adulthood has to do with the social recognition of full personhood, a two-way process between individuals and their social environments, institutions, etc. and that the hallmark of contemporary modalities of adulthood is a recognition deficit. For the post-1970 generation, whose members came of age at a time when the turn to neoclassical economics and neoliberal politics was in full swing, that recognition deficit is constituted by systemic recognition (e.g. recognition by the labour market of their flexibility and mobility) and discursive misrecognition (by commentators and social scientists). I argue that this deficit in recognition is at the core of the uncertainties concerning the meaning of adulthood today, both on the subjective and societal level.

Written by Harry Blatterer,

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University.