Futures and Pasts in Transition.
Family Conversations on Occupational and Personal Ambitions and Perspectives in Luxembourg 


Hermeneutic Dialogue Analysis

HDA was first developed by the research project “Traditions of Historical Consciousness”, led by Prof. Harald Welzer at the Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research (KWI)

The comparison of narrated family histories in three Western post-industrial settings (Luxembourg, Germany and the U.S. states of Florida and Georgia) reflect different value systems and socioeconomic factors. On the surface, Luxembourgian interviewees expressed relative optimism (belief in the welfare state), compared to the reframing of pessimism as optimism as a coping strategy in the United States and a relative pessimism (fear of social welfare cuts) expressed in Germany.

At close look, one can distinguish different generational tendencies of dealing with future expectancies and tying them to past experiences. Thus, older generations in all three settings tend to see temporal changes as cyclical and tend to be less alarmed about the future, as they have “seen it all”. Representatives of the middle generation, who grew up in a period of intense social and material changes (1970s-1980s), are the most worried about loss and decline. They often stress the importance of education to keep up living standards. Their main emphasis is on “keeping” (Luxembourg), “keep striving” (US) and “prevent from falling” (Germany). The youngest generation, about to embark on a professional life, mostly considers their own experience to vary widely from that of their grandparents and parents. Former experiences of crisis and of overcoming it are generally not considered to provide a model for today’s challenges. Although family narrations (constructions of a “we” as hard-working, righteous, commerce-oriented, charitable, tough etc.) are readily accepted in the group interview situation, the communicative memory at work here is a process that confronts different prospective and retrospective strategies of sense-making. They are frequently disputed and – if no consensus can be found – evaded in order to establish a new common ground on a more abstract level, often relating to the above mentioned optimism or pessimism. The more abstract and empty of personal references these “meta-narratives” are the closer they may be linked to media-generated topics and national/cultural foundation narratives that are cited to cover fissures in family narrations. They serve to present a “united front” as a family, to embed the family story in a larger (national or supra-national) frame and to extract behavioural guidelines.