Rachel Thomson is Professor of Social Research in the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the Open University. She is interested in transitions, and has researched the process of growing up as well as becoming a mother. Recent publications include Inventing Adulthoods: A biographical approach to youth transitions (Sage 2007), Researching Social Change: Qualitative Approaches (Sage 2009), and Unfolding Lives: Youth, Gender and Change (Policy Press 2009).
This paper draws on The Making of Modern Motherhoods study, which explores how a contemporary generation of women are creating motherhood, and how intergenerational dynamics of mother daughter relationships can provide insight into the interplay of historical, biographical and generational processes. The study combines an intergeneration and longtitudinal research design, building 12 case studies from an initial interview sample of 62 expectant first time mothers. The paper begins with a review of the conceptual tools employed within the study in order to make sense of rich empirical data, including memory, generation, co-existence and configuration. These themes are then realised through a detailed case history of the Calder family – tracing the impact of the arrival of a new generation. This thick description enables us to see beyond the individual towards the historically contingent configuration that is a ‘family’. By counter posing the horizontal dimensions of the generation against the vertical dimension of historical process and intergenerational change it is possible to capture a sense of how people live, creating change in order to establish continuity. The paper concludes by exploring the contingency of formations of mothering and their connectedness over time, through reflections on the interplay of historical, generational and biographical temporalities.