The formation of family economic strategy : how gender and class interact to make women's lives

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The formation of family economic strategy : how gender and class interact to make women's lives

 

Author: Chan, Po-ying
Title: The formation of family economic strategy : how gender and class interact to make women's lives
Degree: M.Phil.
Year: 2001
Subject: Women -- Social aspects
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Dept. of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: v, 322 leaves ; 30 cm
Language: English
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b1599518
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/3462
Abstract: At first sight, gender and class are two distinct and separate categories for sociological analysis. However, in reality, human beings exist in a societal organization that have class, gender and race and as such would not experience their effects separately, rather, one is wedged in a grid of these social categories which are distinct but interconnected. In this study, the interlocking effects of gender and class on the making of women's lives are singled out to be studied and examined. This is to understand the complexity of women's lives involving their specific conditions of existence, constituted by the simultaneity of gender and class. In light of this, women in a dominant class position are perceived not simply of having more power and opportunities at their disposal than those women situated in the lower ranks of the hierarchical structure. What needs to be explored is to what extent the differences in gendered and classed positions lead to different life experiences, and thus different perceptions of gender relation. The present study employs Bourdieu's assertion on the dialectic relationship between objective conditions and personal perceptions and actions as a theoretical guide to study the complexity of gender and class in women's lives. Using the metaphor of capital put forward by Bourdieu, social structures are not treated as an entity but a set of relational, practical and normative principles upon which capital, in its various forms, are distributed to the individual, with power and resources conferred upon them. However, at the same time, the creation, perpetuation and reproduction of these principles are understood as an ongoing process of active-reactive activities of social agents to their immediate environment, subjected to negotiation, manipulation and change. In other words, it is the mental structure, or habitus in Bourdieu's terms, that is constituted by the condition one is situated in; pre-determines one's demands and aspirations and thus generates practices perceived by one as natural and self-evident, and concurrently adjustable to the conditions upon which it is generated. Ten working women, married and with children, were invited to participate in this study. The selection criterion of the participants as working mothers was deliberately set with the idea that the tension between family and employment was more intensified than single persons and thus more acutely felt by them. Half of the participants were assigned to the category of middle class by virtue of their positions in the socio-economic occupational structure, and half of them were assigned to the working class. The reconstruction of the participants' life experiences was through the method of in-depth interviews. The finding of this study confirms the results of previous studies. After reviewing the family economic strategies of individual families and the roles the participants took, the working class participants are found to be more traditional regarding gender role perceptions, child-centered and let the family take precedence over their career. However, the substance of this study lies in its attempt to explore the gendered and classed processes which make women, with different temperament and experience, come to similar attitudes and perceptions as mentioned above. By placing the participants in their contextualized experience, and identifying their categories of perception that are cultivated through their prior life experiences, we come to a better understanding of the meanings women imprinted in their lives. The potentials and impossibilities, the opportunities and prohibitions that are circumscribed by classed and gendered conditions generate the habitus compatible to one's position. One's habitus transforms the limits in the objective conditions to perceptions of personal preferences, overshadowing the dominant principles of social division and makes it the fundamental structuring principle of one's practices. For that reason, limitations somehow got converted into choices; and necessity appears in the disguise of strategy formed by one's own free will.

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