Reflections on the Symposium

Here, a number of presenters provide their reflections on the Family Troubles Symposium, held at the University of Reading on 16 September 2015. See also the podcasts of the Caringscapes plenary.

Victoria Williamson, University of Reading, writes:

“The symposium brought together researchers from a variety of disciplines to explore and discuss family relations, caring practices and the challenges experienced by families across a variety of cultural contexts. Twenty papers were presented across eight sessions with each session organized around a central theme. Such themes included ‘Support for ‘troubled’ families’ and ‘Meanings of ‘family’ and (troubling) changes in family lives.’ Work presented covered a wide range of topics including: experiences of blame and the negotiation of care among HIV-positive young women and their mothers in South Africa; culturally embedded responses to death in urban Senegal; and the challenges faced by fathers in raising their mixed-race children in New Zealand and Britain. Papers provoked lively discussions among attendees and raised thought provoking questions about the support received by families, the agency of children and young people, and how care giving and receiving is negotiated cross-culturally.

Among the most fascinating of these was the qualitative investigation by Dr Evans and colleagues about the responses to an adult death in urban Senegal. It was found that cultural and religious factors influenced what was considered an  ‘acceptable’ grief response. Grief and grieving practices were often restricted to limited periods of time and coping strategies used by families often included the performance of different rituals, normally involving the distribution of the food, which served both as both a religious rite and as an act of remembrance. This presentation was followed by a panel discussion, which posed thought-provoking comments and questions. See: Caringscapes responses to death family relations RE et al.

The Family Troubles Symposium provided an excellent platform to discuss and explore the innovative research examining family practices and responses to adversity being conducted by highly regarded academics across Europe as well as an opportunity to forge new links between researchers”.

Rosa Mas Giralt, University of Huddersfield, writes:

“The event was a very enriching and enjoyable experience on which I reported throughout the day through my Twitter account (#familytroubles2015). Participants and contributors provided an engaging forum in which to share and discuss cross-disciplinary perspectives on ‘family troubles’ in diverse contexts. My presentation, entitled ‘Death from a distance: loss, presence and regret in the narratives surrounding deceased parents of Latin American migrants in the north of England’, was part of a four-paper session on ‘Responses to death and ‘bereavement’. This session provided different perspectives on how the death of a family member (by suicide or natural causes) affects families from different backgrounds and in different contexts, paying particular attention to the emotional and intergenerational aspects of these ‘bereavement’ experiences. These different perspectives and the questions and discussions which ensued around grief, continuing bonds, sensory reminders, time and responses to ‘difficult bereavements’ were particularly useful to inform the development of my work in this area in relation to migrant families”. See: RMG 2015 Death from a distance

Nicola Turner, Sue Ryder Care Centre for the Study of Supportive, Palliative and End of Life Care, University of Nottingham, writes:

“The papers contained in the book ‘Family Troubles: Exploring Changes and Challenges in the Family Lives of Children and Young People’ helped to shape the theoretical orientation, research questions and methodology of my PhD study, ‘Caring to the End: exploring the lives of young people with a parent at the end of life’. It was therefore illuminating to hear Jane Ribbens McCarthy’s reflections on the development of this approach to thinking about the lives of children, young people and families, and potential directions for future research. See: JM Family Troubles.

I was particularly interested to hear the presentation on the Leverhulme Trust research project, ‘Caringscapes, responses to death and family relations in urban Senegal’.  The inter-disciplinary panel of presenters and commentators produced some thoughtful reflections on the findings from a range of different perspectives; and overall the session provided a fascinating insight into both the process and the benefits of conducting inter-disciplinary research on family lives, troubles and care.

However, as a PhD student, the opportunity to present my work in a session including experts from a number of related fields was the most beneficial aspect of my attendance.  The questions elicited and the discussions generated have significantly helped to develop my thinking at a critical point in my research journey, and I am grateful to colleagues who took time out of the day to engage in conversations and shed light on new directions for future exploration”. See: NT Family Troubles.

Lucas Gottzén, Stockholm University, writes about the session, ‘Care and Interdependencies in Diverse Household Forms’:

“Rosalind Edwards, University of Southampton, introduced the session Care and interdependencies in diverse household forms by presenting findings from her research on fathers of mix-raced children in the UK and New Zealand. She argued that national ‘racial projects’ and colonial histories were reflected in the fathers’ activities and hopes for their children’s identity. See: RE Mixed fathering racial projects.

Lucas Gottzén, Stockholm University, Sweden, talked about his study (conducted with Linn Sandberg) on children exposed to domestic violence and their experiences of the responses from their grandparent. His paper concerned grandparents’ sociospatial responses, such as how they may come to the child in order to create a safe space or may take the child away from the violent household. Grandchildren considered whether or not to call their grandparents since they didn’t want to leave the victim parent alone. See: Gottzen & Sandberg.

Mengwei Tu, Univetsity of Kent, presented a paper on the challenges of transnational caring among Chinese migrants. Her research focuses on young adult migrants that are the only child in the family and that have decided to stay in the UK, and which have their aging parents back home. Tu discussed how this relatively large group of migrants feel rather isolated with their problems since they seldom talk with others about the approaching difficulties of being geographically distant to their old parents. See: MT One-child migrants in the UK and family responsibility in China.

Hilde Danielsen, University of Bergen, reported on her and Synnøve Bendixsen’s study on parent involvement in an ethnic diverse community in Norway. She showed how many ethnic majority parents chose to stay in the area, were proud of their neighbourhood, and were heavily involved in the local school. These parents, primarily mothers, argued that it was difficult to get ethnic minority parents involved (e.g. due to language issues), but actively tried to support and encourage their participation in school activities”.

Mengwei Tu, University of Kent writes:

“Thank you for an inspiring day! The Symposium included such a wide spectrum of papers, I felt I’ve learned a lot from other presenters. Everyone has been so encouraging and willing to share their ideas and research experience!” See: MT One-child migrants in the UK and family responsibility in China.


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