Consumption and intergenerational relationships: Broadening interpretive research on family consumption by focusing on the grandparent - grandchild relationship

Gram Malene, Caroline Marchant, Stephanie O'Donohoe, Brembeck Helene, Barbo Johansson, Heike Schanzel, Anne Kastarinen

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper addresses frequent calls in interpretive consumer research to move beyond studies of the family as couples, parent-child/sibling relationships or nuclear family households (Kerrane et al. 2015), by exploring grandparenting roles and relationships in contemporary Western societies. Although they have not been examined in consumption literature in any depth, we argue that including grandparents in the study of intergenerational relationships offer a valuable lens not only on consumption at later stages of the lifecourse (Barnhart & Peñaloza 2013), but also on evolving family identity bundles (Epp & Price 2008) including the negotiation of practices, relationships and norms within social networks. Whereas being elderly often carries negative images in contemporary Western society, being a grandparent has positive associations and can be an important identity element (Harwood 2009). Significant segments of grandparents are wealthy and spend time and resources on their children and grandchildren, on consumer goods, gifts, travelling, etc. They may be heavily involved in childcare, juggling the need to balance the paradoxes of ‘non-interference’ versus ‘obligation’ as they try to support their adult-child, grandchildren and relationships with other grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives (May et al. 2012). This may also create tensions as grandparents protect their own freedom and agency alongside their increasing longevity and financial independence, meaning it cannot be assumed that they are ‘waiting in the wings’ to support adult-children (Timonen & Arber 2012, p.11). Additionally, new more fluid family patterns, including the rise of blended families following divorce or separation, means that intergenerational relationships are based on biological and non-biological ties and during the process of blending, diverse family histories and ways of being and doing family may evolve or come into conflict. Furthermore, ICT has become an integrated part of grandparents’ lives as well as those of their children and grandchildren in the linking of generations. As documented in childhood consumption literature, just as the older generation has changed, the child as the other ‘book end’ of the generations has come to be perceived in new ways (Marshall 2010; Buckingham 2011; Herlofson & Hagesad 2012). The child is seen as a far more competent actor in his/her life, much more engaged in social relations, social norms and in consumption on many levels than earlier assumed. The child is priceless for parents, but also for grandparents (Zelizer 1985) and this pricelessness may be enacted in different ways by parents and grandparents. The authors of this paper are currently engaged in pilot cross-cultural research exploring the being and doing of grandparenting and grandchilding, and in this paper we seek to highlight a number of theoretical and methodological gaps in the research literature on family consumption and intergenerational relationships. Surprisingly little literature is found on grandparents, grandchildren or their intergenerational relations, and the role consumption plays in keeping up relations between generations (Hogg et al. 2004). Very little theoretical work is found on the role of grandparents or how that role changes over time as grandchildren become adults (Mahn & Huxhold 2012). Moreover, very little research addresses methodological issues related to the inclusion in research of the voices of grandparents, particularly grandfathers (Tarrant 2012), and grandchildren. We offer preliminary indications of the theoretical dividends to be gained from focusing on grandparenting roles and relationships within the family and highlight methodological challenges and questions related to including grandparents in interpretive consumer research. (References available on request)
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2017
Event9th Workshop on Interpretive Consumer Research - University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 27 Apr 201728 Apr 2017


Conference9th Workshop on Interpretive Consumer Research


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