Conflicts and Contracts: Chinese Intergenerational Relations in Modern Singapore

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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The main purpose of this thesis is to examine the impact of social change on Chinese intergenerational relations in contemporary Singapore. Within only three decades, Singapore has turned into a wealthy and sophisticated metropolis with a highly educated labor force. The massive transformation, however, has been accompanied by the emergence of a deep and complex generation gap. Apart from the leap in education, income and consumption, a generational divide has arisen with regard to language, religion and social memory. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among middle-class Chinese families, the author investigates how intergenerational expectations and obligations are challenged, reworked and/or reaffirmed in relation to the extensive societal change.

The thesis argues for the importance of an analytical framework that recognizes processes of both disintegration and consolidation, and the levels at which these processes occur. While Singapore represents one of the most rapidly changing societies worldwide, the family remains a pivotal feature of society and the primary unit of support. In analyzing the continuity of intergenerational support, the author elaborates on the notion of an ?intergenerational contract?. The notion of a contract underlines the standpoint that intergenerational obligations are neither a natural fact nor immune to negotiation, but it is also a contract the parties are socialized into, rather than one that is explicitly agreed upon. The author shows that the idea of a contractual relationship between parent and child is cemented by the government's family politics, which explicitly locates the responsibility of welfare within the family. It is further argued that the intergenerational contract has to be understood not only in relation to the political economy and the state, but also in relation to the specific cultural logic whereby it is represented and interpreted. While the intergenerational contract is being reproduced on many different levels, it is not a static entity. The ethnographic record unfolds how intergenerational relations are being challenged and renegotiated in the context of extensive societal change. In this light, the thesis also examines how intergenerational support is represented and interpreted in relation to the global capitalist economy.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Social Anthropology
  • Ekholm Friedman, Kajsa, Supervisor, External person
Award date2006 Jun 3
ISBN (Print)91-7267-202-1
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2006-06-03
Time: 11:15
Place: Hörsalen Spoletorp
External reviewer(s)
Name: Eisenstadt, Shmuel
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Jerusalem Van Leer Institute, Israel

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Anthropology

Free keywords

  • Sociology
  • Southeast Asia
  • Anthropology
  • Social change
  • Modernity
  • Filial piety
  • Intergenerational contract
  • Chinese families
  • Generations
  • Singapore
  • Cultural anthropology
  • ethnology


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