Inheritance Events: Perceptions of Actions that Involve the Giving and Receiving of Things

  • Jacqueline J. Goodnow Macquarie University
  • Jeanette A. Lawrence University of Melbourne
Keywords: inheritance arrangements, inheritable things, family narratives, personal items, commoditisation


To explore perceptions of inheritance events, people were asked to describe arrangements they regarded as having "worked well" or not. This approach was productive. It yielded narratives that covered positive and negative arrangements, contributed by younger and older adults (mean ages 18 and 45 with few signs of age differences). Selected for closer analysis were 56 narratives involving things rather than only money or land. The aims were to investigate what distinguishes actions viewed positively or negatively, and whether inheritance giving and receiving is like gift-giving and gift-receiving. Analysis brought out the need to separate two routes to acquisition (direct gifts and "family works it out"), and distinctions among actions (e.g., actions treating objects as "treasures" or "commodities"). They also brought out concerns with distributive and procedural aspects of actions. There was a reasonable fit between the results and general proposals about gift giving and receiving. Some redefinitions, however, were needed for concepts of "commodity" and "reciprocity". The results add to our understanding of why inheritable things matter and the features of inheritance-related actions that people regard as significant. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0801252


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Author Biographies

Jacqueline J. Goodnow, Macquarie University
Jacqueline J. GOODNOW is a developmental psychologist and research professor in the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University. Her major research interests are in intergenerational relationships with particular attention given to the understanding of entitlement and obligation.
Jeanette A. Lawrence, University of Melbourne
Jeanette A. LAWRENCE is a developmental psychologist and associate professor in the School of Behavioural Science at the University of Melbourne. Her current research interests are in intergenerational interactions and culture and justice in family and legal settings.