American Sociological Association

Intragenerational Variations in Autobiographical Memory: China’s “Sent-Down Youth” Generation

The relationship between generation and memory instantiates a theme central to sociology: the intersection between history and biography. This study addresses two gaps in the literature. First, whereas the dominant approach uses a cognitive concept of memory operationalized as naming events, I focus on autobiographical memory represented in life stories, in which members of a generation understand the meanings of their personal past as part of a historical event. Second, whereas the dominant approach stresses intergenerational differences of memory, I draw on a Bourdieu-Mannheim theoretical framework to use class—including class positions and habitus—to describe and explain intragenerational differences in autobiographical memory. The two theoretical goals are achieved through theorizing an important case: the autobiographical memories of China’s “sent-down youth” generation, the 17 million youths (zhiqing) sent by the state to the countryside in the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on a qualitative and quantitative analysis of life-history interviews with 87 former zhiqing, I describe how this generation reconciles two components of autobiographical memory: personal experience in their sent-down years and historical evaluation of the send-down program. Respondents’ present class positions shape their memory of the personal experience, whereas their political habitus formed in the political-class system in the Mao years molds their historical evaluations of the program. Their habitus may change as a response to the social transformation in recent decades. This article not only contributes to our understanding of generational memory but also brings class back into the field.

Authors

Bin Xu

Volume

82

Issue

2

Starting Page

134

Ending Page

157