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  • Author or Editor: Jane Ribbens McCarthy x
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David Morgan’s contributions to family sociology started from a direct engagement with theoretical perspectives, but his 1996 publication, Family Connections, took his family sociology in a new, somewhat ‘fuzzy’ direction. Two key motifs for his later work are the emphasis on ‘family’ as an adjective, and its fruitfulness when conjoined with the doing of ‘practices’. Yet his 1996 text also identified key theoretical themes he considered important for family sociology to retain. I trace some of the theoretical concerns that he carried forward in his later work, while drawing attention to some aspects that invite further development, including the significance of everyday family meanings, the challenge of considering ‘family practices’ beyond affluent Minority worlds, and the need to critique the ‘individual’ along with the ‘family’. I offer this discussion on the basis that family sociology is a central issue for sociology in general as a theoretical enterprise.

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This chapter places at its heart the inescapably moral nature of the issues at stake in considering family troubles, in a wide-ranging discussion drawing on sociology, philosophy, political theory and anthropology. Making meaning of family troubles is an existential challenge that faces all who experience them, and those meanings may be shaped by interpersonal, material and cultural contexts (including the available narratives for explaining suffering and the relative value placed on autonomy, community and/or divinity in different societies). The chapter explores the processes involved, highlighting the contests that may arise over meaning between different participants and stakeholders, and then goes on to take up the challenge of debating whether, despite the particularity of meanings in contexts, any universalizing principles can be brought to the task of setting boundaries between the ‘normal’ and the ‘troubling’ in family life. Four perspectives are considered: a critical realist approach from sociology; an international legal approach framed as ‘rights’; an anthropological perspective on non-uniform universality; and a form of feminist philosophy framed as an ethic of care, each of which is argued to offer a useful reference point in necessarily ongoing debates, enabling dialogue about the gains and losses associated with them.

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As the everyday family lives of children and young people come to be increasingly defined as matters of public policy and concern, it is important to raise the question of how we can understand the contested terrain between “normal” family troubles and troubled and troubling families. In this important, timely and thought-provoking publication, a wide range of contributors explore how “troubles” feature in “normal” families, and how the “normal” features in “troubled” families. Drawing on research on a wide range of substantive topics - including infant care, sibling conflict, divorce, disability, illness, migration and asylum-seeking, substance misuse, violence, kinship care, and forced marriage - the contributors aim to promote dialogue between researchers addressing mainstream family change and diversity in everyday lives, and those specialising in specific problems which prompt professional interventions. In tackling these contentious and difficult issues across a variety of topics, the book addresses a wide audience, including policy makers, service users and practitioners, as well as family studies scholars more generally who are interested in issues of family change.

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As the everyday family lives of children and young people come to be increasingly defined as matters of public policy and concern, it is important to raise the question of how we can understand the contested terrain between “normal” family troubles and troubled and troubling families. In this important, timely and thought-provoking publication, a wide range of contributors explore how “troubles” feature in “normal” families, and how the “normal” features in “troubled” families. Drawing on research on a wide range of substantive topics - including infant care, sibling conflict, divorce, disability, illness, migration and asylum-seeking, substance misuse, violence, kinship care, and forced marriage - the contributors aim to promote dialogue between researchers addressing mainstream family change and diversity in everyday lives, and those specialising in specific problems which prompt professional interventions. In tackling these contentious and difficult issues across a variety of topics, the book addresses a wide audience, including policy makers, service users and practitioners, as well as family studies scholars more generally who are interested in issues of family change.

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Exploring changes and challenges in the family lives of children and young people

As the everyday family lives of children and young people come to be increasingly defined as matters of public policy and concern, it is important to raise the question of how we can understand the contested terrain between “normal” family troubles and troubled and troubling families. In this important, timely and thought-provoking publication, a wide range of contributors explore how “troubles” feature in “normal” families, and how the “normal” features in “troubled” families. Drawing on research on a wide range of substantive topics - including infant care, sibling conflict, divorce, disability, illness, migration and asylum-seeking, substance misuse, violence, kinship care, and forced marriage - the contributors aim to promote dialogue between researchers addressing mainstream family change and diversity in everyday lives, and those specialising in specific problems which prompt professional interventions. In tackling these contentious and difficult issues across a variety of topics, the book addresses a wide audience, including policy makers, service users and practitioners, as well as family studies scholars more generally who are interested in issues of family change.

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This opening chapter contextualises the debates the book addresses, which explore the contested terrain between ‘normal’ family troubles and troubled and troubling families. It elaborates the editors’ assumption that change and trouble are pervasive features of children’s family lives, with the experience of them and ability to deal with them influenced by both cultural and material resources. It discusses key contested concepts of children and families, change, challenge and troubles, identifying pertinent conceptual resources for these debates including e.g. concepts of vicissitudes, expectations, suffering and trauma. It identifies two conflicting directions of argument found in feminist and other research on families and its overlapping fields: first, ‘troubling the normal’, involving the naming of harms and injustices in previously taken-for-granted practices (such as domestic violence), and second, ‘normalising troubles’, involving questioning the pathologising per se of family change and diversity (including divorce and lone parenthood), identifying the value and risks in each approach and the tensions which arise from different positions. Finally it considers the politics of how definitions of normality and trouble emerge, are contested and become institutionalised.

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