Search
|
Est
Back to top

Biographies and generational patterns

Keywords: biographical agency, pivotal time, generation of the 1970s, narrative patterns

The article scrutinises the autobiographical stories told by people born in the 1970s. The chosen group spent their adolescent formative years in the whirlwind of the social changes characteristic of Estonia in the 1990s and they found themselves in high positions at an unusually early age, enjoying upward social mobility. The analysis is based on stories elicited from qualitative interviews (biographical, focus-group and in-depth interviews). Specifically, the analysis focused on how the interviewees saw their own role, or agency, and to what extent they referenced the developments in their lives to the social structural background of the political change in the 1990s. The article demonstrates that despite the modern popularity of individual success stories, the informants tend to describe their success as a result of taking advantage of their luck rather than of a desperate hunt for success, thus diminishing their personal role.

There may be several explanations for this phenomenon. A general explanation could be that the key of narration is chosen according to the assumed expectations of the interviewer, thus focusing on the relations between periods of times and life. On the other hand, times of great change may easily make an individual feel only partly responsible. Even if one takes decisive steps to improve one’s personal life or the social situation, unstable times involve a lot of uncontrollable variables. True, some variables are present during stable times, but in most cases the degree of control or lack of control is known. In unstable times, however, normal circumstances may change or disappear altogether, while some uncontrollable conditions may become controllable. Hence, a similar style of narration can also be met referring to events of pivotal times, such as wartime escapes. Although stories are usually told with more nuances than the generalisations of social scientists, the experience of a certain historical period will leave an unmistakable imprint on the narratives of the period, while the people who happen to have shared not only the experience but also a common social background tend to follow similar patterns (narrative templates), when speaking about their experience.

The age group under study tends to interweave the haphazard, chaotic and hectic aspects of the social environment with their own choices and agency of the time. They emphasise the high rate of change typical of those times (from a strict order to chaos, from chaos to stability) and personal initiatives are described in the context of the surrounding atmosphere, which encouraged and promoted such initiative. The times are depicted as positive, although such keywords as „chaotic”, „uncertainty”, „turbulent” and „complicated” are not commonly perceived as such. When telling an autobiographical story, one may often mention some aspects where the personal role of the story-teller is less salient, but which nevertheless contribute to the image of the person, thus increasing their symbolic capital. It could even be called generational capital, as far as being born and experiencing life in a certain period has become a resource in its own right and an awareness of this background is conducive to higher social prestige. This may well be the main reason why personal agency is sometimes diminished and a greater importance is given to the time period, as it was likely to have provided its contemporaries with a certain life experience and contributed to their character.

Raili Nugin (b. 1975), PhD, Tallinn University, Centre for Landscape and Culture, Researcher, raili.nugin@tlu.ee

 

References

A a r e l a i d - T a r t, Aili 2006. Cultural Trauma and Life Stories. Helsinki: Kikimora.

B a u m a n, Zygmunt 1998. Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Moralities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

B o u r d i e u, Pierre, W a c q u a n t, Loic J. D. 2005. An Invitation to Reflexive Soci­ology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Crosten 1999

F u n k, Karlo, T o o t s, Janno, V a h t e r, Tarmo 1995. Mõtteid valmiva põlvkonna ajudest. – Eesti Ekspress 23. I.

G e n n e p, Arnold von 1960. The Rites of Passage.London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

G r i s h a k o v a, Marina, K a z j u l j a, Margarita 2008. Social risks and challenges of the post-socialist transition period in Estonia: Analysis of biographical narratives. – Qualitative Sociology Review, kd 4, nr 2, lk 106–125.

H a r b u s, Antonina 2011. Exposure to life-writing as an impact on autobiograph­ical memory. – Memory Studies, kd 4, nr 2, lk 206–220.

H i n r i k u s, Rutt 2003. Eesti elulugude kogu ja elulugude uurimise perspektiive. – Võim ja kultuur. Toim Arvo Krikmann, Sirje Olesk. Tartu: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, lk 171−213.

J a a g o, Tiiu 2016. Teekonnad ja piirid – elulood piiripoeetika vaatepunktist. – Mäetagused, nr 65, lk 95−116.

J õ e s a l u, Kirsti 2005. „The right to happiness”: Echoes of Soviet ideology in biographical narratives. – Berliner Ostereuropa Info, nr 23, lk 91–99.

J õ e s a l u, Kirsti 2016. We were children of a romantic era: Nostalgia and the non-ideological everyday through the perspective of a ’Silent Generation’. – Journal of Baltic Studies, kd 47, nr 4, lk 557−577.

J õ e s a l u, Kirsti, Nugin, Raili 2012. Reproducing identity through remembering: Cultural texts on the late Soviet period. – Folklore, nr 51, lk 15–48.

K a t t e l, Rainer 2013. Praegused tudengid tahavad pingutamata võitjate põlvkonda jäljendada. Delfi 22. V. http://arileht.delfi.ee/news/uudised/rainer-kattel-praegused-tudengid-tahavadpingutamata-voitjate-polvkonda-jaljendada.d?id=66168402

K a t u s, Kalev, P u u r, Allan, P õ l d m a, Asta 2008. Eesti pere- ja sündimus­uuring. Estonian Family and Fertility SurveyTallinn: Eesti Kõrgkoolidevaheline Demouuringute Keskus.

K o g a n, Irene, U n t, Marge 2005. Transition from school to work in transition economies. – European Societies, kd 7, nr 2, lk 219–253.

K õ r e s a a r, Ene, J õ e s a l u, Kirsti 2016. Post-Soviet memories and ’memory shifts’ in Estonia. – Oral History, nr 47, lk 47−58.

N u g i n, Raili 2015. The 1970s: Portrait of a Generation at the Doorstep. (Politics and Society in the Baltic Sea Region 3.) Tartu: Tartu University Press.

N u g i n, Raili, J õ e s a l u, Kirsti 2016. Narrating surroundings and suppression: The role of school in Soviet childhood memories. – European Education, kd 48, nr 3, lk 203−219.

N u g i n, Raili, K a l m u s, Veronika 2017 [ilmumas]. Social generations and societal changes. – The Routledge International Handbook of European Social Transformation. Toim Peeter Vihalemm, Anu Masso, Signe Opermann. London: Rout­ledge.

N u g i n, Raili, K a n n i k e, Anu, R a u d s e p p, Maaris 2016. Introduction: Mapping generations in the Estonian context. – Generations in Estonia: Contemporary Perspectives on Turbulent Times. Toim R. Nugin, A. Kannike, M. Raudsepp. Tartu: Tartu University Press, lk 13–33.

S a a r, Ellu, K a z j u l j a, Margarita 2016. Winners and losers in the generation of winners. – Generations in Estonia: Contemporary Perspectives on Turbulent Times. Toim Raili Nugin, Anu Kannike, Maaris Raudsepp. Tartu: Tartu University Press, lk 256–279.

S a a r, Ellu, U n t, Marge 2008. Selective mobility into self-employment in post-socialist transition: Early birds, later entrants, quitters and shuttles. – International Small Business Journal, kd26, nr 3, lk 323–349.

S a a r, Ellu, U n t, Marge 2010. Falling high: Structure and agency in agriculture during the transformation. – Journal of Baltic Studies, kd 41, nr 2, lk 215–235.

S t u r k e n, Marita 2008. Memory, consumerism and media: Reflections on the emergence of the field. – Memory Studies, kd 1, nr 1, lk 73–78.

T o o m s e, Mari 2004. Koolist tööle: millistelt positsioonidelt alustavad noored oma tööteed. – Noorte siirdumine tööturule: probleemid, vastuolud, kitsaskohad. Toim Rein Vöörmann. (TPÜ RASI sotsiaalse stratifikatsiooni osakonna toimetised 1.) Tallinn: TPÜ RASI, lk 12–39.

T u r n e r, Victor W. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publications.

T w e n g e, Jean M. 2006. Generation Me. New York: Free Press.

V o g t, Henri 2005. Between Utopia and Disillusionment. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

W e r t s c h, James 2002. Voices of Collective Remembering. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.