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. (2020) ‘Post-Brexit Boomer blaming: The contradictions of generational grievance.’ The Sociological Review, Special Section: Exploring the Legacy of the Baby Boomers: Myths and Realities of Intergenerational Relations in the Twenty-first Century. Published online 23 January 2020; doi: 10.1177/0038026119899882.
- Bristow, J. (2019) Stop Mugging Grandma: The ‘generation wars’ and why Boomer blaming won’t solve anything. London: Yale University Press.
- 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 with Higher Education
From 2017-2019, I led 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.
A book based on this study, Generational Encounters with Higher Education by Jennie Bristow, Sarah Cant and Anwesa Chatterjee, was published by Bristol University Press in March 2020.
With University of Surrey Research Fellow Helen Kingstone, I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Small Grant in the Humanities and Social Sciences, running from October 2019 until June 2021. The award provides funding to develop an interdisciplinary network of academics and Third Sector organisations actively working with ‘generation’, to map how this concept can best be used, and to improve understanding of the relationship between generations, wellbeing, and public policy.
The network aims to transform the ways that generation is discussed among scholars (where there is currently little dialogue between disciplinary fields that are using the concept in parallel but separate and contradictory ways), and between academics and policy-facing organisations. It further aims to transform the way that ‘generation’ is used in media and public policy discussions, promoting a more nuanced and constructive understanding. As an outcome of these discussions, the network developed the briefing paper ‘Talking About Generations: 5 questions to ask yourself.‘
Read more about the work of the generations network here.
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.
The 2017 ‘Policing Pregnancy’ conference, a collaboration between the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Birthrights, and Engaging Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University, 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.
- Lee, E., Bristow, J., Arkell, R. and Murphy, C. ‘Beyond “the choice to drink” in a UK guideline on FASD: the precautionary principle, pregnancy surveillance, and the managed woman.’ Health, Risk & Society, published online November 2021.
- Bristow, J. (2019) Les «parents hélicoptères»: une socialisation incertaine des adultes en devenir, Revue des Politiques Sociales et Familiales, 133, October.
- 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.