Unpacking ‘family troubles’, care and relationality across time and space

We are pleased to share our thoughts on unpacking ‘family troubles’, care and relationality across time and space in our editorial (2019) to accompany the exciting special section of Children’s Geographies that resulted from our Family Troubles Symposium, held at the University of Reading.  Through this piece and the special section, we unpack time-space dynamics of ‘family troubles’ in diverse contexts, with a particular focus on care and relationality. We seek to establish an agenda for future geographical work and interdisciplinary dialogue on ‘family troubles’, vulnerabilities and social suffering in contexts of (troubling) changes and diversity. Such analyses are crucial in our efforts to envision a more relational understanding of our ‘being-in-the-world’, underpinned by care ethics and support for differentially positioned family members throughout the lifecourse and across generations.

Read more here

Loss and solitude in contemporary urban Senegal: exploring loneliness after a family death

We presented our paper, ‘Loss and solitude in contemporary urban Senegal: exploring loneliness after a family death‘ today in the panel session on Solitude in Africa, convened by Michael Stasik at the European Conference of African Studies 2019, University of Edinburgh. We analysed our dataset for references to ‘alone’, ‘lonely’ and ‘solitude’; feeling alone after a family death was commonly experienced by the majority of interviewees.  It was great to discuss loneliness and solitude in the context of West Africa with contributors and audience members. See our abstract for more details:

While tackling loneliness has risen up the policy agenda in the UK and other affluent societies, solitude and isolation in Africa appears to be a sign of a loss of social status and support and implies greater suffering (Jacquemin, 2010). In this paper, we explore experiences of loneliness after a family death in contemporary urban Senegal. We draw on in-depth interviews with 59 family members living in two cities, Dakar and Kaolack and four focus groups. Many young people and older participants described feeling ‘alone’, both at the moment of death and in the months following the death. These feelings seemed to conflict with the presence of relatives, friends and neighbours in the immediate aftermath of the death, as well as the sense of the presence of the deceased in homespace. While only one participant, a widower, lived alone, many widows expressed a sense of feeling ‘alone’ in their responsibilities to raise their children and manage the household following the widowhood-mourning period. The findings bring into sharp contrast the distinction often made in Anglophone literature between loneliness as a subjective, felt experience and social isolation as a more objective, observable phenomenon. The Wolof notion of Dimbalanté (solidarity/mutual support), which is closely connected to a relational understanding of the self, bound up with the wellbeing of others (often referred to as Ubuntu in Africa), appear central to understanding the meaning of loss and loneliness in contemporary urban Senegal. These findings have significant implications for conceptualising ‘solitude’ in cross-cultural contexts.

Understanding the social contexts of a family death

We are pleased to share our most recent article published from our research with families in urban Senegal. In this article, we try to understand how people made sense of a family death, within the social contexts of their lives. We theorise this in terms of ‘meanings-in-context’, since meanings and contexts are inextricably bound up together and cannot be separated out: meanings are shaped by particular – local and global – contexts. Contexts are also shaped by the meanings through which people experience their life circumstances. We discuss how people made sense of the family death in relation to three main contexts: family, religion, and materiality.

Families are considered to be absolutely central to people’s lives, being the major source of support and security in precarious life circumstances. After a death, then, families were a key source of support and also of motivation, for the future of the family as a whole. When a family member died, it was the role they played in family life that was central to the sense of loss, and they were often described as ‘irreplaceable’ in these terms.

In relation to family and religion (primarily Sufi Islam) particularly, the death was understood very much as a key communal context for making sense of the death. It was only a minority of people who gave a medical cause of death, although others might refer to physical symptoms. Rather, detailed holistic accounts were often given, of events leading up to the death, and the idea that the death was ‘God’s Will’ was frequently mentioned. This idea provided many people with a significant basis for accepting the death, although sometimes this might also mean that ‘too many tears’ might be frowned upon as indicating an inability to accept God’s Will.

The third context that we discuss is materiality, and in particular we consider how emotions were bound up with the material consequences of the death, which could be severe. This particularly contrasts with ideas of affluent Minority worlds, where emotions are generally understood as something separate from material life.

For more in-depth discussion of these ‘meanings-in-context’, read our blogpost and article.

Launch of our Youth Wellbeing Network @YWellbeingNet

We are pleased to launch our new Youth Wellbeing Network, a global network of policymakers, practitioners, researchers and youth supporting a holistic approach to young people’s psychosocial wellbeing. Like our Facebook page and join the group to share information about events, share resources and network.

Interpréter le ‘chagrin’ et les émotions dans des contextes interculturels

Dans notre article publié dans Mortality récemment, nous discutons le processus complexe de traduire et interpréter le ‘chagrin’ et les émotions dans des contextes multiculturels et interculturels.  Nos expériences d’une recherche qualitative menée en milieu urbain au Sénégal, Afrique de l’Ouest, démontrent l’importance d’impliquer les interprètes et les chercheurs sur le terrain dans tout le processus de recherche. Cela nous a permis d’avoir une connaissance approfondie des nuances culturelles des langues autochtones et de comprendre comment celles-ci sont traduites et potentiellement reformulées dans le processus.

Lire le blog post complet ici.

New blogpost on emotionally sensed knowledge

Ruth Evans’ Methods in Motion blogpost shows how an approach of ‘uncomfortable reflexivity’ can help to reveal the work of emotions in cross-cultural research. Thanks to the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University, for publishing this edited version of our original blogpost.

New Social Dynamics in Senegal workshop

Ruth Evans gave a very well received keynote at the New Social Dynamics in Senegal workshop organised by Aurélien Baroiller, Boubacar Barry & Hannah Hoechner, at Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels (13-14 March 2017). Her presentation, “Your tears are like pouring hot water on the body”: Caring for the dead and responses to a family death in urban Senegal, explored the social regulation of grief and how care for the dead is expressed. The workshop provided an opportunity to connect with other academics and researchers working in Senegal and think how best to continue the dialogue in future.

Towards an Anthropology of Grief

Ruth Evans was pleased to speak at the recent workshop Towards an Anthropology of Grief organised by Aurélien Baroiller, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes Contemporains, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium (8-9 March 2017). Ruth’s paper explored the paradox of absence-presence and the importance of time-space practices in understanding continuing care of the dead in urban Senegal. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss the research findings with anthropologists of grief working in diverse contexts globally.

Interpreting ‘grief’ and emotions in cross-cultural contexts

In our latest article in Mortality, we discuss the complex process of translating and interpreting ‘grief’ and emotions in multilingual, cross-cultural settings. Our research in urban Senegal demonstrates the importance of involving interpreters and field researchers throughout the research process. This enabled us to gain insight into the cultural nuances of indigenous languages and how these are translated and potentially re-framed in the process.

Read the full post here.

What We ‘Don’t Know’ in Cross-Cultural Research

As debates about ‘truth’ continue to hit the headlines, sociologist Dr Jane McCarthy explores what we ‘don’t know’ in cross-cultural research in a blogpost for the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University.  She writes….

“What counts as ‘truth’ is a political hot topic. Yet a previous post has argued that knowledge is relative, a matter of social production, shaped by power dynamics. So how do we reconcile such perspectivism with a continuing search for robust knowledge, whether ‘at home’ or ‘abroad’ – knowledge that is sorely needed in the current climate?

Although my work was based in the UK for many years, more recently I have welcomed opportunities to research aspects of children’s lives in China, and family experiences of death in Senegal. In these projects, I’m driven by the need to step outside the perspectives of the minority, affluent worlds in which I live, to find out what it is ‘we’/I don’t know. Knowledge needs to be diverse and flexible – while remaining robust – if it is to become something really useful in a complex and often intolerant world in which globalisation and technology increasingly compress time and space, bringing diversities into sharp relief with major human consequences.

Yet short-term qualitative research falls painfully short of the anthropological gold standard of studying diverse peoples by learning new languages and immersing oneself in the field. Researching ‘abroad’ has involved steep learning curves. I have relied heavily on team-working with Chinese and Senegalese academics and with UK researchers already familiar with these contexts. The careful focus on the details of constructing our research has been crucial, alongside an awareness of broader power structures and dynamics that impinge on our work”.

Read the full version of Jane’s Methods in Motion blogpost