Desktop version

Home arrow Language & Literature

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Families as Histories and in History

The research for this book was done in the middle ground between sociology and history, two disciplines that have not always got along very well. Sociology tends to lean more towards drawing generalizations about social structure and development than history, which places more emphasis on how societies differ from one another (Burke 2005, 2). I am well aware of this difference, and somewhat concerned about how far sociological generalization can ignore the national differences that are so important to historians. But the same also applies the other way round: if I concentrated too much on the details, would I lose sight of the bigger picture? In the end, as a sociologist, I have chosen to give priority focus to the broader sweep of generalizations, although I do back them up by providing an abundance of details. Here I can rely upon Hobsbawm’s (2011, 106) sympathetic statement: The history of society is a collaboration between general models of social structure and change and the specific set of phenomena which actually occurred. In this respect, my work oscillates between sociology and history. Moreover, I do not regard the past as the exclusive domain of historians, but as part of a continuum that runs through to the present, which in turn will soon be history. Analysis of change and transformation or indeed any social developments is only possible if the past and the present coexist in the same study.

It took me years to familiarize myself with royalty and the nobility, the two social worlds that have received scant attention in sociological enquiry, but I am confident that I now know enough to warrant my limited scholarly interest in the choice of spouse and the succession of occupations in the family. There is still one more difference between my sociological investigation and historical studies that must be mentioned, namely, I do not rely on primary materials, the very stuff of proper historical studies. Rather than delving into the archives, I have sat down to a prepared meal, making good use of earlier research by historians.

Nevertheless, I have had to collect my own data set as well. This data had to meet some specific requirements. First of all, it was necessary to get information on whole families in successive generations, including their different branches. Moreover, I needed to be able to elaborate in detail the dynamics of family-wise social mobility. The best possible source for such purposes were social genealogies, which record the births, marriages, divorces (to be examined in future), deaths and occupations of all family members in successive generations. Most of these genealogies in my data set are from published genealogical books, but some of them are unpublished genealogies drawn up by individual family members. Depending on the size of the family, the number of branches and the length of the family tree, most of the genealogies in my data set comprise 400-1000 persons, including spouses. I collected just over 100 genealogies, but worked only 90 of them so that I could calculate some statistical indicators and conduct a detailed analysis of social rise, the maintenance of status and social decline in the status hierarchies concerned. Moreover, I collected from different sources a further data set that allowed me to investigate the family backgrounds of entrants into higher statuses, that is, noble parvenus, the founders of big family firms, professors, MPs and artists who had risen to eminence. The samples are described in detail in the relevant chapters. In addition, I had access to a bulky pile of family histories as well as biographies and memoirs of individual family members. If information was not available from these primary sources, I drew supplementary information from the Internet, mainly

Social genealogies are rarely used as sources in sociological or even historical research. One classic study, though, is Frances Galton’s Hereditary Genius (1869). Having observed how frequently ability seemed to go by descent, he decided to conduct a study which he says was the first to treat this subject in a statistical manner (Galton 1869, v-vi). Recently, Clark and Cummins (2012) linked seven generations through rare surnames and on this basis estimated wealth, education and occupational status for initial elite and underclass groups. Since then they have also estimated social mobility for the time span from 1230 to 2012 (Clark and Cummins 2013). As in Long’s (2013) research, the main interest in these studies is intergenerational mobility, which shows how open or closed, that is, how equal or unequal society was and is in this respect. In Sweden, Elmroth (2001) has carried out a comprehensive study on the Swedish nobility, including all noble families from 1600 to 1900. In this study she traces the nobility’s journey from the upper class to the middle class. In France, Bertaux and Bertaux-Wiame (1997) carried out a case study of a French male lineage from a rural background, which was able over several generations to create a small family business, develop it and eventually move into the ranks of the educated middle class. In Finland, Hakkinen (2013) with his collaborators has collected a large data set of social genealogies, starting from 1700, but so far only preliminary results have been presented.

My study is necessarily fragmentary, mostly because a more comprehensive and in-depth investigation would have required a huge amount of work—too much work for just one researcher. Yet the findings on the dynamics of structural transformations should be largely applicable to Europe, not exactly percentage for percentage, but closely enough to uncover general trends in development and the dynamics of the maintenance of status, social rise and social decline in the family. Similar general developments were discernible in Europe, for instance, in the emancipation of women, which seemed to advance irrevocably in one direction, albeit at different paces in different countries (Jallinoja 1995, 244-65).

The elaboration proceeds at two levels. The more general description is based in part on other scholars’ studies, but in part on my own data set, insofar as possible. The more detailed elaboration is based first and foremost on the social genealogies. For this part, the research is a case study. Unfortunately, the cases are in considerable part from Finland, a drawback that was difficult to avoid. But as Alapuro (1994, 13-14) remarks in his treatise on the birth of modern Finland around the turn of the twentieth century, a closer examination of one local community makes it possible to capture the elementary ways in which people through their political networks, for instance, shaped the development of the modern state. This kind of knowledge is adequate for purposes of generalization if the local community’s position in that development is taken into consideration; in my case, for example, bearing in mind that Finland is a Protestant country classified as part of the European periphery (Rokkan and Urwin 1983), and as such was late to industrialize. Before independence in 1917, Finland was ruled by Swedish monarchs until 1809, and then for a century by Russian emperors.

Alapuro’s ambitious treatise on the birth of the modern state through an examination of one parish reminds me of a more recent work, one that Stites (2014; see also Wilson 2014) did when illuminating rebellious movements against imperial autocracies in the 1820s. Four horsemen,

Rafael del Riego, Guglielmo Pepe, Alexandras Ypsilanti and Sergei Muraviev-Apostol, minor and higher noblemen from different corners of Europe and their fellow rebels, aimed to put into practice the great liberation. They did not act in concert, but independently in the same direction. This was possible because they were deeply inspired by the same wave of thought, liberation, which swept across Europe in the 1820s. This is exactly how Europeans in different countries have been swept along in many other social and cultural currents, including changes in status hierarchies. This book attempts to expose how families, and dynasties among them, travelled through history, created their own histories and handed them down as their legacy, and how families created history, not in separation from great currents of transformation, but by performing a vital role in their creation.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics