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Kinship and Geographical Mobility in a Sample from a London Middle-Class Area

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image of International Journal of Comparative Sociology
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The total picture given of these Highgate families is a complex one. The individuals come from diverse origins, in geographical, social and occupational terms. Not only have many of them moved to London from other areas, but also most of their siblings and other kin have been equally mobile. In very few cases have kinship ties or obligations entered into decisions to move, either in the case of the informants themselves or their siblings and parents. Mobility in all generations, undictated by kinship ties, has led to a wide scatter of families all over the country and overseas. This mobility is largely a function of the sort of careers taken up by both the men and the women. Apart from this, however, it can be seen that it is also made easier by the relative independence of children from their parents at an early stage. There are explicit attitudes, held by both children and parents, that they should be independent of one another at least in the daily functioning of their lives. Children often go to boarding schools, later to colleges and universities, and are prepared, for the latter, to live at great distances from their families. This does not mean that relationships are ineffective or necessarily distant between parents and children, or between other sorts of kin. The expected patterns of behaviour are based on strong affective ties which are not, however, expressed in frequent and intense interchange of contact and services or mutual dependence. Just because there is not frequent and intense contact does not mean that the affective tie does not exist. Nor that, in certain circumstances, kin are not called upon for assistance or advice. It is significant that certain services are given regardless of the geographical distance between kin. For example, one of the situations in which mothers are most frequently called in to help is at the birth of a baby. Nearly all the young wives had their mothers to stay in the house at least during one confinement, i.e. when she herself was in hospital. Many mothers travelled from great distances to do this, one or two even from abroad. Thus it can be seen that distance is no barrier to the sort of services these sort of people tend to need. Neither mothers nor daughters expect or want daily exchange of household services in normal circumstances, neither do they generally want constant contact with each other. The type of relationship between parents and children obviously determines to a large extent the sort of relationships an individual will have with the rest of his or her kin. If a relationship with a parent is not manifested in constant interaction then two things result. Firstly, the ideology and attitudes with which a child is brought up will be of such a kind that he does not expect a close relationship with his extra-familial kin, and secondly, because of relatively infrequent contact with parents and siblings, genealogically more distant kin will enter into his life even less, and ties even with relatives who may be in constant contact with a parent may be dropped or maintained according to individual preferences. In this sense geographical distance may enable ties to be dropped without, generally, upsetting the relationships between other kin. Considering a wide divergence of occupations and cultural interests and, in some cases, of class background, a great many ties are maintained with relatives. Generally, contact is not frequent, but this seems to bear little direct relation to geographical distance except insofar as the latter acts as an extreme limiting factor. Where people want to see their kin, wide distances are covered relatively often. Expectations of extra-familial kin behaviour do not usually demand frequent contact, even when proximity allows it. With closer kin, specifically parents and siblings, there is more evidence to support the hypothesis (often held for all kin) that as much interaction will take place as possible at all times. Even for parents and siblings this is not entirely so, but here behaviour approximates more to this hypothesis, and this is so in spite of the ideology of independence with which children grow up, and the complex set of circumstances arising out of a wide range of occupations and cultural interests. Ties with kin outside the family of origin are maintained on a more selective basis, and they are often manifested only in contact of an intermittent nature. Partly this is because these ties are not often of a very strong kind - it is fair to say that to a great extent these people function independently of the majority of their kin. But it is also partly because more overt behaviour patterns of any more intense nature are not expected between members of these families.

Affiliations: 1: London School of Economics and Political Science, London, U.K.


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