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Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives

Children creating kinship

(September 2005 - January 2007)

Background to the project

This project explored how children create kinship in their everyday lives. We examined the range of relationships which matter to children and asked how children experienced, shaped and gave meaning to these relationships.

Relationships with parents and friends are often seen as most significant in children's lives. However, relationships (both past and present) with others such as relatives, carers, neighbours, pets, mentors, teachers and professionals may also be very important and meaningful to children. Therefore, in this study, we defined 'kinship' broadly, fluidly and from the perspectives of children themselves.

In exploring how children 'create' kinship with others, we focused not only on children's attitudes to kin relationship, but also on the kinship practices in their everyday lives. We were especially interested in how children are active participants in family life and in the ways they are involved in building and maintaining relationships. Furthermore, our focus on everyday kinship practices seeks to recognise that kinship is negotiated both through daily, 'ordinary' activities as well as during the more unusual events (such as family change) which are also woven into everyday experience.

Objectives

  • To explore who matters to children (in positive and negative ways); how children balance or prioritise different relationships; who they might count as ‘family’ or ‘like family’ and how they make such distinctions.
  • To investigate how children’s kin relationships develop and change over time and ask what circumstances and life events might impact on the development of these relationships.
  • To look at what kinds of communication, activities and practices are involved in establishing and maintaining relationships and to ask how children are involved in these.
  • To examine the meanings children’s kinship has and explore how such meanings may be related to issues of morality, values, identity, culture and religion.

Methodology

We conducted qualitative interviews with 49 children aged 7-12, asking them to reflect upon and describe their relationships and relationship practices to us. Before the interview, we gave children a disposable camera and asked them to take photographs of people, things or places that said something about their relationships, both past and present. These photographs, along with other activities, provided a focal point for our discussions with children in the interviews. We have also interviewed eight selected parents, in order to gain more information about the context of children’s kinship and to develop detailed case studies.

Publications

  • Mason, J. and Tipper, B. (forthcoming) 'Children as Family Members' in Ben-Arieh, A. Cashmore, J. Goodman, G. Kampmann, J. and Melton, G. (Eds.)Handbook of Child Research Sage 2009
  • Mason, J. and Tipper, B. (2008) ' Being Related: How children define and create kinship' Childhood 15 (4): 441-460
  • Mason, J. and Tipper, B. (2008) 'Children and the Making of Kinship Configurations' in Widmer, E and Jallinova. R (Eds.) Beyond the Nuclear Family: Families in a Configurational Perspective (Population, Family and Society) Vol 9, Bern: Peter Lang

Research team

Funding

This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Ref: RES-000-23-0271-A).