Understanding nuance and ambivalence in intergenerational relationships through fiction



French JE, Lovatt M & Wright V (2023) Understanding nuance and ambivalence in intergenerational relationships through fiction. The Gerontologist.

The term ‘intergenerational relationships’ is widely used in gerontological literature and age-related policies. However, discussions of the term often tell us surprisingly little about what it means or why it matters. We suggest that this is due to a reductivism and instrumentalism in two main discourses within which intergenerational relationships are usually discussed. Firstly, intergenerational relationships are often conceptualised through a binary ‘conflict / solidarity’ lens, reinforcing an entrenched ‘generationalism’ (White, 2013). Secondly, they are predominantly constructed as a problem to be addressed within debates on how to tackle intergenerational segregation. Neither of these discourses provides much room for a more nuanced understanding of how intergenerational relationships are experienced or why they are meaningful. In this paper, we discuss how fictional narratives can introduce imagination and a richer vocabulary into discourses concerning how people of different ages relate to each other. We present findings from reading groups where adults discussed novels depicting themes of older age, intergenerational relationships, and time. In discussing the fictional narratives and characters, participants reflected on the significance and meaning of intergenerational relationships in ways that went beyond dichotomous and instrumentalist discourses. Drawing on the concept of lived ambivalence (Baars, 2014) we argue that fictional representations of intergenerational themes can elicit more meaningful reflections on the complexities and contradictions of relationships across age groups. We conclude that a more nuanced understanding of intergenerational interaction can inform gerontological discourses and policy, but also that gerontological awareness of social challenges concerning age-relations can inform interpretations of fictional narratives.

novels; literature; reading groups; generationalism

Output Status: Forthcoming/Available Online

The Gerontologist

StatusIn Press
FundersESRC Economic and Social Research Council
Publication date online27/04/2023
Date accepted by journal06/04/2023
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)

People (1)


Dr Melanie Lovatt

Dr Melanie Lovatt

Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology

Projects (1)

Reimagining the Future in Older Age