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Setting Out on a Journey

A Brief Introduction

The inspiration for this book came from family portraits: portraits of royals and commoners, portraits painted and photographed, portraits from the past and the present. My fascination (if not obsession) with portraits stems from the very nature and purpose of family portraits: when a family comes together for this special moment, it does so with the specific intent of portraying itself as a family. The highly formalized arrangement of portraits is intended to manifest the family’s image of its own integration (Bourdieu 1990, 7, 26-7). In this regard, as Rochberg-Halton (1986, 170-1) points out, family portraits are like family icons or ancestor totems. It is no wonder then that people so often have family photos on display in their homes, particularly those that are most conventionally composed (Gomila 2011, 63-77). They are like a domestic shrine, a catalogue of family members past and present. The attributes of family integration, icon and ancestor totem refer to a special kind of order that different kinds of families share in common: family portraits are closely regulated and as such represent a highly ordered order in the creation of families. On this scene, families are made to look fundamentally similar.

© The Author(s) 2017

R. Jallinoja, Families, Status and Dynasties,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-58073-3_1

But family portraits also exhibit another tendency. The sumptuous clothes worn by royals and nobles as opposed to the mundane dress of commoners reflect a distinction that is deeply associated with status. We all recognize and understand this distinction in family portraits, not as a matter of taste but as a reference to the family’s social position. Those wearing lavish clothes look to belong to higher ranks than those who are dressed more modestly—this divide we intuitively recognize. It is equally important that the whole family is dressed in the same fashion: this conveys that all family members belong to the same status category, as a kind of bequest from the family member upon whom the status was originally conferred. This member used to be the father. Although this distinction seems to correspond with the divide between the rich and the poor, the more relevant point for me is that the differences in appearance reflect the hierarchical order of statuses. This is the main focus of my enquiry: to elaborate the relationship between family and status, as it is historically materialized in different statuses.

My all-time favourite painting of royal families is Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas from 1656, which presents Margaret Teresa, daughter of King Charles IV of Spain, in the company of ladies-in-waiting, courtiers and dwarfs. Picasso produced no less than 45 cubist renditions of this Velazquez painting (Finlay 2011, 173), which were intended to figuratively illustrate the changes that dynastic families have experienced over time. As a Spanish painter himself, Picasso might well have empathized with the works of his famous compatriot, but I suspect his interest went deeper than that: wrapped in a strange halo of glory, royalty is a fascinating social phenomenon from the past. For me, these two presentations of a royal family, the old one and the more recent ones, embody the historical transformation from a strictly hierarchical order into its disintegration. Yet the two divergent styles cannot conceal the resemblance between the highly dynastic royal family and its deformed variants. My aim in this book is to trace this dual historical development, the continuity of dynasticity, on the one hand, and its transformation into novel forms and gradual waning, on the other.

Before I proceed to elaborate the relationship between status and family, I must clarify some points of departure in my treatise. First, my main focus is on practices, an approach that owes to Morgan’s (1996) insight that families are constituted in everyday practices. This approach became popular among family sociologists at the Morgan Centre for the Study of Relationships and Personal Life in Manchester and elsewhere in Britain, but in other countries too (Jokinen 2014, 168-91). Its basic tenet is that the nature of families is ultimately determined by family practices. I have developed this idea further by dividing family practices into practices per se, in their concrete operativity, as Agamben (2011) would say, and into practices as signs of something else. These are in fact two aspects of the same transaction. The difference is best illuminated by the example of eating. As a concrete transaction, eating is nothing more than putting food into one’s mouth. However, eating is at once a performance of something else, for instance, of the status and social circle to which individuals belong. People with whom we share our meals belong to ‘our circle’ (Jones 2007, 2; Julier 2013, 13), in one way or another. This duality runs through the whole length of this book, but it is particularly relevant when I elaborate the making of status. This is based on objective criteria, for instance, hierarchically ordered offices or amounts of wealth, and performances of status, such as residences. My focus in this book is on two particular performances closely related to the family, that is, marriage and succession, or, more precisely, the choice of spouse and the passing down of occupations in the same family across successive generations.

The next three sections below clarify my approach in more detail. I begin by explaining why I have chosen to give priority to status over class and to status hierarchies in the plural over one single class structure that takes in all classes. In the next section, I clarify my notion of status performance, the strategy I apply in studying marriage and succession, and the imperative of status equivalence that, to varying degrees, determines the boundaries of marriage markets and the range of occupations considered acceptable for one’s offspring. In the final section I proceed to explain my angle on history—an important question for a sociologist taking a plunge into the twilight zone between history and sociology.

The book is divided into six main chapters, which are arranged into a deliberate order that reflects the status of each chapter’s protagonists, from the highest statuses towards lower ranks, from high dynasticity towards its fading. At the same time, this order is intended to reflect the historical development of families and social structures from the seventeenth century to the present. The status hierarchies in focus were selected with this in mind. Royalty, which is explored in Chap. 2, was included because of its very peculiar status that in the heyday of monarchical rule (1600-1800) stood at the height of power. Chapter 2 covers a long time span, extending from the heyday of royalty to the present, when royalty no longer is in power at the helm of state governance. The many-layered status hierarchy of nobilities, examined in Chap. 3, was included in this treatise because it offers the first opportunity in this book to delve into the complex workings of status in the marriage market and the succession of occupations. When the nobility’s heyday began to wind down from the late nineteenth century onwards, we can follow in detail how they were gradually integrated into families of other status hierarchies.

The nineteenth century proved to be an era of great significance: it saw the erosion of old status hierarchies and the emergence of new ones which broke down the old divides in the marriage markets and the succession of occupations. Important in this respect were entrepreneurial dynasties, who were exalted as winning entrants to the turbulent scene of the nineteenth century. In virtue of this, entrepreneurial dynasties were included in the data set. They are discussed in Chap. 4. The analysis starts with local entrepreneurial dynasties and then moves on to explore the biggest entrepreneurial dynasties from the early nineteenth century to the late twentieth century.

At the same time as entrepreneurship was booming, education became an increasingly important determinant of status. This contributed to elevate the status of professionals, particularly those at the pinnacle of their own status hierarchies, that is, higher-grade professionals. This was the reason why I took them under closer scrutiny, which is undertaken in Chap. 5. Primary attention is given to the learned, first clerics as the representatives of the clergy, and then professors. Chapter 6 focuses on artists—musicians, painters, actors and artist groups—who were included because they represent a special segment of professionals. In the nineteenth century, their status began to be determined on individualized grounds, according to their talent for creative work and the fame they achieved, in many cases without the backing of any office. Finally, Chap. 7 brings together all the representatives of the status hierarchies included in this treatise to see how they intermingled in the twentieth century, when dynasties were no longer as influential as they used to be. In this chapter greater focus is also given to lower-ranking families, who do not receive much attention earlier in the book. I chose to pay special attention to tenant-worker and worker families. In addition, some attention is given to politicians, who replaced nobilities at the head of state governance.

It is clear that the decision to include several different status hierarchies in this book means that they cannot be explored in the same detail as they could have been had the focus been on one status hierarchy only, say that of the nobility. I have had to leave out a lot of information that would certainly have been of interest and importance to specialists on this status, but I also feel that it is sometimes worthwhile to explore several divergent status hierarchies in order to reveal their exclusiveness and the way they are interwoven. This is possible when the research is limited to a few subjects only, as I have done in this book.

In order to see how boundary work through ‘right choices’ cemented hierarchical orders family-wise, these chapters address three main subjects: the organization of statuses into a hierarchical order, the choice of spouse and the succession of occupation in the family. The imperative of status equivalence plays an important role in these choices, sometimes assuming identical status equivalence, at other times stretched but only up to a certain point, for otherwise status equivalence turns into social decline. Social rise is equally important. In both cases the main interest is with the dynamics of mobility.

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