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In debates on social change and personal life, modernity has generally been conceptualised in opposition to tradition, though some have pointed to the persistence of traditional values and practices within modern family relations. In this paper we seek to extend these debates beyond their largely Eurocentric context. Drawing on a comparative qualitative study of women and social change in the UK and Hong Kong we argue for a more complex understanding of the traditional and the modern that takes account of the ways in which tradition is reshaped in the context of modernity. The accounts of young adult women and their mothers in Hong Kong and the UK reveal varied interpretations of family obligations and practices in relation to normative ideals of family life in each context. We consider how configurations of family life deemed ‘modern’ are inflected by the differing traditions and histories of Hong Kong and British society and argue that these differences are not only cultural, but are also attributable to the material conditions under which family relationships are forged and negotiated.
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