Linking ages – un/doing age and family in the Covid-19 pandemic
Keywords:COVID-19, intergenerational relations, un/doing age, doing family, undoing family, social practices, linking ages
Objective: In this paper we ask how and through which social practices age and family are relationally being un/done in the course of the pandemic in Germany, and how these un/doings shape, shift or even break intergenerational relations.
Background: The spread of the coronavirus and the attempts of governments to slow it down are severely affecting livelihoods worldwide. The institutionalised ageism underlying these government measures affects the youngest and oldest in society in particular (Ayalon et al. 2020; van Dyk et al. 2020). Intergenerational relations of social reproduction enacted, inter alia, through practices of eldercare, grandparenting, or voluntary work, are significantly limited in the current pandemic, as older adults are framed as an 'at-risk group', children as 'silent transmitters', and young adults as a 'risky group' (Ayalon et al. 2020; Stokes & Patterson 2020). These constructions contribute to the constitution, stabilisation and 'doing' of age in the pandemic.
Method: We present findings from longitudinal research that was conducted through qualitative, problem-centred interviews between March 2020 and February 2021 with persons of different ages living in different household and care constellations in Germany.
Results: Whereas in non-pandemic times doing age can be constitutive for doing family – as a constellation traditionally perceived to comprise multiple generations – we see the opposite happening in the pandemic: as age-based government measures to contain the spread of the virus limit intergenerational relations, older adults face the risk of being excluded from families. Hence, doing age can lead to a redoing or even an undoing of family.
Conclusion: The paper outlines the potential of a 'linking ages' approach for the study of family lives and of intergenerational relations in times of crises.