Intergenerational conflict in township families: transforming notions of "respect" and changing power relations

  • Catherine Campbell Department of Social Psychology, The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK


In-depth interviews with 64 Durban township residents representing several generations highlighted intergenerational conflict as a feature of working-class township family life. Informants related this problem to the changing face of "traditional" notions of respect for the older generation within families, according to which youth should (i) show deference and obedience towards members of the older generation, and (ii) regard them as valuable social guides. Members of the older generation (aged between 50 and 60 years), particularly men, tended to dwell on the former component of respect, referring to the younger generation's failure to treat them with the deference and obedience which they felt was their due. The youth in the study (aged between 17 and 23 years) dwelt on the latter component, with many suggesting that their elders were not always qualified to guide them in facing the challenges of modern township life. It is argued that while intergenerational relations are currently in turmoil, this does not indicate a "breakdown" of township family relations. The family appears to remain a resilient institution. Further, the severity of current intergenerational problems is related to particular features of the present historical moment in South Africa, characterized by rapid social change. It is concluded that the severity of the problem could decrease as members of the present younger generation come to take their places as parents and grandparents.


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