The (cross-cultural) problem of categories: who is ‘child’, what is ‘family’?

Ribbens McCarthy, Jane and Evans, Ruth (2020). The (cross-cultural) problem of categories: who is ‘child’, what is ‘family’? In: Frankel, Sam and NcNamee, Sally eds. Bringing Children Back into the Family: Relationality, Connectedness and Home. Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, 27. Bingley UK: Emerald Publishing, pp. 23–40.



Both family sociology and childhood studies have sought in recent years to reflect on their most basic assumptions, most notably what is means to be ‘a child’ or ‘a family’. While this has led to some productive and challenging debates in affluent Anglophone and Western European contexts, these discussions have not fundamentally re-thought these challenges through Majority world vantage points. Drawing on the work of the philosopher and sinologist François Julienne, and his argument that Western European languages are rooted in an ontology of categorical thinking, we raise the question of what is ‘family’ and who is ‘child’ in diverse linguistic contexts. Drawing on the examples of 'child' in China and ‘family’ in Senegal, we explore the ways in which processes of translation perform a neo-colonial outcome by re-framing these terms through categorical thinking, allowing much of the nuances, complexities and fluidity of their meanings to ‘slip away’

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