Acting up and acting out: encountering children in a longitudinal study of mothering

Hadfield, Lucy; Kehily, Mary Jane; Thomson, Rachel and Sharpe, Sue (2009). Acting up and acting out: encountering children in a longitudinal study of mothering. In: 9th Conference of the European Sociological Association: European society or European societies, 2-5 Sep 2009, Lisbon, Portugal.



Despite a proliferation of research exploring children´s lives and relationships over the past two decades, there is a notable absence of research which explores family relationships from the perspective of very young children (age 0-3). This paper will report on data emerging from a study of new mothering with a particular focus on very young children´s active engagement with wider family narratives, and the means with which to explore these processes. The UK based Making of Modern Motherhoods project has composed 12 longitudinal family case histories from the period 2005-2007 starting from the first time mother and including grandmothers and significant others, subsequently following seven families over a further two years (2008-2009). In the latest phase of the study, that forms part of the ESRC funded Timescapes initiative, we have documented a "day in the life" of the family, using participant observation techniques. This approach has enabled us to capture for the first time the emergence of the child (around 2 years old). This paper will draw on data across the case studies, focusing on examples of interaction between researcher, mother and child relating to food. We explore how researcher subjectivity can be interrogated as rich source of evidence regarding the place of the child within the research and family dynamic. We observe the way in which researcher attention moves between direct and indirect engagement with the child, and between adult and child centred activities, giving rise to reactions ("acting up") from both mothers and children. Our data reveals significant differences between family practices, with children performing identities and roles for and with the researcher that are intimately bound up with wider family narratives.

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