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Narrating family histories: negotiating identity and belonging through tropes of nostalgia and authenticity

Bennett, J. (2015) Narrating family histories: negotiating identity and belonging through tropes of nostalgia and authenticity. ISSN 0011-3921

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Abstract

Studying change is at the heart of any investigation into social life, whilst continuity is seen as central to a stable identity over time. Change is an unsettling, but inevitable, part of everyday life; continuity speaks of repetition over time, unity and the comfort of belonging. This article examines how themes of nostalgia and authenticity are evoked in telling family histories in order to negotiate change and create a continuous story of belonging. Three family histories demonstrate how material objects, places and claims of family resemblances are used to create both authentic identities and authentic selves belonging to the wider community. Where there is a break in the family story and the ‘world of restorable reach’ is no longer available nostalgia creeps in to replace personal stories with communal ones. Through using both nostalgia, to inform a sense of loss and sometimes a shared past, and authenticity, to create a sense of continuity within an overall arc of change, this article shows how family histories can work to maintain identities over time, retaining a sense of ontological security and belonging in place.

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