Family Troubles Symposium: Care and Change in Diverse Contexts

Podcasts of the Caringscapes presentation, discussants’ comments and plenary discussion now available!

University of Reading, 16 September 2015

This inter-disciplinary symposium aimed to explore family relations, care and ‘troubles’ in diverse contexts. The symposium reflected on the powerful, often emotive discourses associated with ‘family’ in different cultural and policy settings and set out to explore the (potentially troubling or troubled) changes, caring practices, and intergenerational relations that shape family lives over time and space across the global North and South. 21 papers and plenaries were presented and 45 people participated in the Symposium.

Dr. Jane Ribbens McCarthy gave the opening plenary discussing key conceptual approaches and challenging and provoking our thinking on what we mean by ‘family troubles’and how these issues may be addressed across diverse cultures. Paper and poster presentations from UK and international academics, researchers and practitioners addressed the following themes:

  • Meanings of ‘family’ and (troubling) changes in family lives
  • Care and interdependencies in diverse household forms
  • Support for ‘troubled’ families
  • Responses to death and ‘bereavement’
  • Life-limiting illness, dying bodies and family caring practices
  • Policy framings of ‘troubling’ families.

These contentious, emotive and sensitive issues pose questions and dilemmas for policy makers, practitioners and service users, as well as researchers and academics interested in issues of family change, care and support.

In the afternoon plenary, Dr. Ruth Evans, Dr. Jane Ribbens McCarthy and Dr. Sophie Bowlby presented key findings from their cross-cultural research on Caringscapes responses to death family relations – watch the podcast. In a panel discussion, Rebecca Smith, Save the Children, Dr. Avril Maddrell, University of the West of England, Isobel Bremner, Candle Project, St Christopher’s Hospice and Prof. Rosalind Edwards, University of Southampton gave insightful comments about the ethic of care adopted, the linkages between formal and informal systems of support in resource-constrained settings, the role of education and how we understanding emotions and narratives of family life in cross-cultural perspective. This led to an interesting discussion in response to the issues raised by the discussants and audience members – watch the podcast.


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The keynote lecture by Prof. Samantha Punch, University of Stirling, on Reflections on negotiated and constrained interdependencies within and across generations raised critical questions about conceptual approaches to children’s agency and highlighted the importance of an inter- and intra-generational perspective and led to a stimulating discussion and conversations, which continued in the drinks reception which ended the day.

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We are co-editing a special issue of Children’s Geographies on the theme of Family ‘troubles’, care and relationality in diverse contexts, based on a selection of papers presented at the Symposium. More details to follow.

The Symposium built on earlier work on the theme of Family Troubles? sponsored by the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at the Open University (see also this podcast about the book, ‘Family Troubles: Exploring Changes and Challenges in the Family Lives of Children and Young People’ edited by Jane Ribbens McCarthy, Carol-Ann Hooper and Val Gillies, 2013, Policy Press).

This Symposium was co-sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group, the British Sociological Association (BSA) Families and Relationships Study Group, the BSA Death, Dying and Bereavement Study Group and the Association for the Study of Death and Society (ASDS).

It was funded by the University of Reading, the Open University and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group.

A small number of bursaries were awarded to presenting postgraduates/ practitioners/ unwaged (funded by the RGS-IBG Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group).

For the programme of abstracts, with links to presentations, see: Family Troubles Symposium programme and abstracts final 16 Sept 2015.

See also reflections on the Symposium by some of the presenters.

Contact: Ruth Evans:


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  1. Pingback: Symposium on Family Troubles: Care and Change in Diverse Contexts | Gender and Sexuality Research Network

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