Changing Patterns of Work, Care and Public Policy in Europe and North America
Globalization and Welfare series
Edited by Diane Perrons, Colette Fagan, Linda McDowell, Kath Ray and Kevin Ward
Chapter 10: Individualization and ‘Identity-Risks’ in Dual-Career Households
Irene Hardill and Joost van Loon INTRODUCTION Individualization is now a widely used concept in social theory to describe the changing nature of prevailing social relations in late-modern Western societies (Bauman, 2001; Beck, 1992; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002; Giddens, 1991; Sennett, 1998). In general terms, individualization is the process by which the primary unit of social and political action is no longer an aggregate or collective entity, but becomes increasingly restricted to individual persons (a shift from ‘we’ to ‘I’). However as Beck and BeckGernsheim (2002) point out, the concept itself is still too often misunderstood as a simple equivalent of neo-liberal individualism, which ascended to prominence during the era of Thatcherism and Reaganomics in the 1980s. Individualism is an ideology that positions the subject as in essence a unique, autonomous, self-standing and free-being, whose sense of self is only additionally influenced by social forces, but only because the subject grants this an active and conscious permission. As an ideology, it gives meaning and value to a specific relationship of the subject to his or her real conditions of existence (Althusser, 1971). In the case of individualism, this value is that of self-determination. In contrast, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim stress that individualization is a deeply social process and institutionally anchored: ‘it is a structural characteristic of highly differentiated societies’ and ‘does not endanger their integration but actually makes it possible’ (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p. xxi). The process of individualization effectively undermines the value of self-determination, because it is a consequence...
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