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

Thomson, Rachel; Hadfield, Lucy; Kehily, Mary Jane and Sharpe, Sue (2012). Acting up and acting out: encountering children in a longitudinal study of mothering. Qualitative Research, 12(2) pp. 186–201.




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 reports on data emerging from a study of new mothering with a particular focus on very young children’s active engagement with wider family narratives. The study employs a qualitative longitudinal design, and women have been followed from pregnancy into motherhood. Most recently we have attempted to document a ‘day in the life’ of the mothers using participant observation techniques. This approach has enabled us to capture the emergence of the child (around 2 years old). This paper focuses on examples of interaction between researcher, mother and child relating to food, exploring how researcher subjectivity can be interrogated as a source of evidence regarding the place of the child within the research and family dynamic including examples of ‘acting up’ and acting out’ on the part of all participants.

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