Sub-project I: Work, Family, and the IndividualSaying that one is doing a project on family history immediately evokes the question of context: in what setting does family history gain importance? From an individuals’ point of view, the central division in daily life is between personal and professional activity, i.e. between family and work life. ‘Family’ as a concept gains importance when set alongside ‘work.’ Making this distinction is the starting-point of my historical analysis:
Though distinct from each other, home/family and work are not mutually exclusive categories; the things we do in each sphere have a deep impact on the other. On a very practical level, our work schedules dictate when we spend time with our family, and our salaries dictate our personal lifestyles. Moreover, we go where the job market pulls us: we leave our hometowns and put down new roots wherever we can find work. Conversely, our family commitments and available resources dictate where, when, and how much we work and can work.
Then, on a deeper level, our family backgrounds, the ambitions and pressures of our elders, and our (other) personal desires and ambitions shape our work lives, just as skills we gain and frustrations we face at work will transfer to the home. So, the relationship between the two spheres is complex and shaped by socio-historical and individual circumstances.
Balancing one’s family commitments and professional activities well is often seen as the mark of a successful individual (see work-life balance), and it seems that an individual’s identity and self-definition derives from successful performance in both these spheres. Then, on an individual level, the questions are, what is the relationship between people’s work lives and their family lives, and how have they experienced and managed this complicated relationship? Have there been any changes over time in this?
This is the first part of my project of study in family history. Because most of the large changes in the structure of the family—the transition from the joint to the nuclear family, movement away from ancestral villages to Chennai and other big towns (even other countries!), and the influence of Western ways of life—have been impelled by economic change and development, this seems like a logical place to start my inquiry.
List of questions:
1. Who influenced people to work, or into certain lines of work? What kind of support/opposition did various family members give to people’s career plans?
2. What pressures/influences lead women to seek professions?
3. What kinds of work do women typically study for/do?
4. What is the role of personal ambitions in work?
5. Have people’s ambitions and attitudes to work changed over the course of their career?
6. To what extent do people gain personal satisfaction from their work?
7. Have men and women faced any challenges while supporting a family and doing work that they liked?
8. How do men and women compare their professional experiences vis-à-vis their spouses’?
9. Do people form friendships and personal relationships at work? What is the relationship between these and their work performance?
10. How do people manage family and work when they work with/for their relatives?