‘Family troubles’, care and relationality

While there has been significant work on family geographies, parenting and place in recent years, geographers have paid less attention to the particular dynamics of changes and challenges that may be considered ‘family troubles’ and the pressures that these circumstances may place on children, young people and family relations in diverse households, cultural contexts and institutional settings. Our editorial and special section of Children’s Geographies, seek to unpack and critically analyse 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. Time-space analyses of ‘family troubles’ provide novel contributions to geographies of children, youth and families, as well as geographies of care, migration, gender, intergenerationality, intersectional and lifecourse approaches. Such analyses foreground ambiguities and tensions surrounding geographical proximity and propinguity, material-emotional responses, and diverse meanings of ‘family’, ‘home’ and belonging in the context of troubling changes in family lives, intergenerational relations and practices of care.

The ongoing ‘family troubles’ project, led by family sociologists, Jane Ribbens McCarthy, Val Gillies and Carol-Ann Hooper, has explored conceptual and policy understandings of ‘family troubles’, and ‘troubling families’ (see their 2018 special issue of Sociological Research Online). As Ribbens McCarthy, Gillies and Hooper (2019) summarise, the theme of the original Symposium in 2010 was “intended to recognise the ‘normality’ and ‘ordinariness’ of changes and challenges in the family lives of children and young people, which might sometimes be welcome but might often be experienced as (remarkable or unremarkable) family troubles”. This led to an edited collection which sought to “normalise troubles” and “trouble the normal”.  Ribbens McCarthy et al. (2013, p.14) defined ‘family troubles’ in terms of “unexpected disruptions and/or … disruptive changes, and/or … a chronic failure of life to live up to expectations”.  The project poses pertinent questions of:

whether, or how far, difficult or painful events constitute a general feature of family lives, how troubled and troubling families perhaps normalise their lives, and when ‘changes’ and ‘troubles’ may be considered to become ‘harm’, and by whom? And how do ‘family’ discourses and practices, along with idealisations of ‘childhood’, re/create and feed into such divisions and dilemmas? (Ribbens McCarthy, Gillies and Hooper, 2018, p.153).

Our editorial and special section of Children’s Geographies  provides fresh perspectives on a diverse range of ‘family troubles’ which shape young people’s family lives and connections to others across time and space. We seek to locate this work not only within the fields of family sociology, social policy and social work practice, but also build on the growing body of research on family geographies and care, geographies of childhood and youth, age and intergenerationality. Through our geographical-sociological collaboration, we seek to place greater emphasis than has hitherto been the case on the importance of place, space, temporality and emotions to conceptualisations and understandings of young people’s family lives and intergenerational relations in potentially ‘troubling’ contexts of change and diversity. Such issues become even more complex in the context of migration and differing cultural values and expectations of childhood, ‘family’ and constructions of care .

We also seek to respond to broader calls to challenge binary characterisations and ‘trouble’ disciplinary boundaries in order to advance interdisciplinary  understandings of contemporary family lives, while acknowledging unequal power geometries of knowledge production in a postcolonial, globalised world.  In particular, Evans (2019) has highlighted the need to trouble Majority-Minority world binaries about ‘family struggles’ and recognise commonalities, while carefully situating the process of knowledge production and paying close attention to differing meanings of ‘family’. Further, Ribbens McCarthy and Gillies (2017) call for the development of inter-cultural dialogue about the boundary between ‘normal’ family troubles, and troubles that are troubling – potentially ‘harmful’, particularly to children – in ways that might be seen to require intervention. Such inter-cultural dialogue seeks to go beyond ‘facile universalism’ and ‘lazy relativism’ (Jullien, 2014) while recognising neo-colonial power dynamics and inequalities.

Read more about the ‘family troubles’ and ‘troubling families’ project here.