Who is a sister and a brother? Biological and social ties

Edwards, Rosalind; Hadfield, Lucy; Lucey, Helen and Mauthner, Melanie (2005). Who is a sister and a brother? Biological and social ties. London South Bank University.

URL: http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/families/workingpapers/fami...

Abstract

This Working Paper considers the issue of who is a sister and a brother? At first sight this may seem like a question with a simple answer – siblings are related by biology, through their parents, or at least one parent. Indeed, this technical fact is often an assumption underpinning statistics that are collected on children and their families, and in research on children’s sibling relationships. Drawing on empirical data collected from children and young people about their relationships with their sisters and brothers, however, we reveal that their own answers to this question are more complex. Their responses add another dimension to the question of who is a sister or brother: the ways in which sibling relationships are socially constructed. For children, sibling relationships are actively built in everyday interactions involving language and non-verbal communication – or indeed the lack of it – as part of lived experience. This then raises a qualitatively different sort of question: what is a sister or brother? It also brings into view the subjective ways in which having sisters and brothers contributes towards a sense of self; that is, who you are and your relationship to other people and the world.

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