My principal area of research investigates the development of the New Generation Wars in political and policy discourse. Current debates about generations often have a metaphorical quality. Scratch the surface and we find that these debates tend to be motivated by wider anxieties to do with, for example, social policy and the allocation of resources, such as pensions and healthcare; the role of the family, and the relationship between adults and children in wider society; the relationship between demographic trends and social events; ageing and the role of the elderly; and broader existential questions relating to knowledge and time.
I explore these questions, and their implications for culture and policy, in a number of recent books and articles. My research suggests that the enduring problem of generations remains that of knowledge: how society conceptualises the relationship between past, present and future, and the ways in which this is transmitted by adults to the young. Developments in education, teaching and parenting culture seek to resolve tensions of our present‐day risk society through imposing an artificial distance between the generations. The likely effect of policies designed to reduce the appearance of generational conflict, for example through strategies promoting ‘generational equity’, will be to inflame it.
- Bristow, J. (2016) The Sociology of Generations: New directions and challenges (Palgrave Macmillan)
- Bristow, J. (2016) ‘The making of “Boomergeddon”: the construction of the Baby Boomer generation as a social problem in Britain.’ British Journal of Sociology 67(4): 575-591
- Bristow, J. (2015) Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan)
Generational Encounters in Higher Education
I am currently leading a study of the academic-student relationship and the meaning of the university experience, funded by a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. Through a detailed analysis of policy documents and media accounts, and interviews with students and academics, this study compares student and academic accounts of the university experience with the dominant discourse of the ‘student consumer’. Principal research questions explore:
- Experiences of the difference in school and university from an educational perspective;
- How the consumer context of higher education frames the relationship between academic and student;
- The role of university in the transition to adulthood, including social and emotional pressures;
- Generational differences in the overall university experience.
‘Policing Pregnancy’ is the title of an ongoing, interdisciplinary collaboration between the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Birthrights, and Engaging Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU). A conference held at CCCU on 18 May 2017 explored changing ideas about pregnancy, motherhood, responsibility and risk, and the impact of these ideas on women’s experience and professional services. Speakers were drawn from a range of academic disciplines, including Sociology, Anthropology, History, Law, Philosophy, and Social Work, and from Third Sector organisations working with pregnant women. The event was attended by over 100 students, academics, campaigners, and midwives, and attracted coverage across the national and local UK press. I am now working with undergraduate students involved to develop research and further discussions to do with young women’s ideas about pregnancy, responsibility, and risk.
As an Associate of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, I have worked with colleagues over the past 10 years on the increasingly fraught and politicised question of childrearing. My research and writing in this area has addressed:
- Intergenerational contact and the problem of safeguarding
- Parent-training and ‘expert advice’
- Childhood, risk, and independence
- ‘Helicopter parenting’ and ambivalent adulthood
- Infant feeding
- Abortion and family planning.
- Lee, E., Bristow, J., Faircloth, C., Macvarish, J. (2014) Parenting Culture Studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Bristow, J. (2013) ‘Reporting the Riots: Parenting Culture and the Problem of Authority in Media Analysis of August 2011’, Sociological Research Online, 18 (4) 11.
- Lee, E., Macvarish, J., Bristow, J. (2010) ‘Editorial: Risk, health and parenting culture’, Health, Risk and Society 12 (4): 293-300.
- Furedi, F. and Bristow, J. (2010) Licensed to Hug. 2nd edn. London: Civitas.
- Lee, E. and Bristow, J. (2009) ‘Rules for Infant Feeding’, in S. Day Sclater, F. Ebtehaj, E. Jackson and M. Richards (eds) Regulating Autonomy, Sex reproduction and the family (Oxford and Portland, Hart, pp. 73-92, 2009).
- Bristow, J. (2009) Standing up to Supernanny. Exeter: Imprint Academic.