Few of the many social science researchers writing about personal life are simultaneously addressing the cluster of issues sometimes referred to by the shorthand ‘environment’ – sustainability, climate change, loss of biodiversity and depletion of natural resources. This article argues for much more effort in this direction, suggesting agendas for new research, and advocating knowledge exchange engagement with activists and policy-makers. A theoretical and empirical case is made for seeing families and personal relationships as multiply engaged in producing or inhibiting the possibilities of a more sustainable and equitable planet. For sustainable development to be a global reality, there must be very significant reduction of high carbon footprint and resource-depleting consumption in the rich regions of the world, here referred to as the ‘minority worlds’ (Punch and Tisdall 2012). Researchers studying families and relationships, whether within or across national contexts, are well placed to engage their work with policy, practice and activist discussions of the needed shift towards more sustainable practices, pro-environmental dispositions and a collective politics of change.
This chapter focuses on practices of intimacy, moving the book from an analysis of families to relationships more widely. It notes that there are contradictory claims about the meaning and significance of intimacy and that there has been attention to boundaries in the conceptualisation of intimacy as well as in how it is practised. Typically, two main boundaries have been identified: boundaries between the familial and non-familial, although these are becoming increasingly blurred; and exclusionary boundaries between intimates (traditionally typified as couples) and the wider community, although again this boundary may be contested. The chapter contends that not all practices of intimacy require exclusionary boundaries and that boundaries have been overemphasised in the conceptualisation of intimacy.
This chapter draws on interview data with children and young people aged between 10 and 14 years, who have lived through contrasting forms of family household change, to explore what influences their ability to sustain and refashion their sense of self in the context or aftermath of loss. While children who experience the death of a parent, or parental separation or divorce, must cope with disruption to, or loss of, a primary relationship central to their development and identity, and children whose families relocate across countries to seek asylum more often lose everything but these primary relationships - extended family, community and place of origin. The influence of relational, social cultural and material contexts on the experience is a common thread.
In the 1990s, researchers seriously began to investigate children’s views (Hill and Tisdall, 1997; Christensen and James, 2000), complementing earlier research on young people aged 16+ (Hutson and Jenkins, 1989; Wallace, 1989; Banks et al, 1992). With the exception of a few pioneering studies (Mitchell, 1985), this was the first time children’s views of parenting, families and family life had been investigated. In a number of studies, researchers found that many children defined ‘family’ fairly flexibly and inclusively, and that the overwhelming majority saw parents as crucial to their well-being (Brannen et al, 1994, 1999, 2000; O’Brien et al, 1996; Borland et al, 1998; Morrow, 1998; Douglas et al, 2000; Dunn et al, 2001; Smart et al, 2001). This period was also a time of new studies of children’s friendship and school-based peer relationships (Mac an Ghaill, 1994; Griffiths, 1995; Hey, 1996; Connolly, 1998), demonstrating that friendship was a major focus in most children’s lives and also central to their well-being (Criss et al, 2002).
Interest in listening to children and young people has been stimulated by changes in how we think about children and childhood (Jenks, 1996; James and Prout, 1997). The new ‘social studies of childhood’ approach conceives of the child as a knowledgeable social agent with the ability to comprehend, reflect upon and effect change in his or her social world. Concern to investigate children’s views of their families was an attempt to understand children’s experience of widespread changes in family life and to begin to document children’s perspective on the impact on their wider social world of events such as a family household regrouping from two parents to one parent.
This chapter concentrates on solo living as a way of understanding families, relationships and households. It provides a detailed empirical analysis of who is living alone in the UK and who is moving in and out of solo living. The evidence suggests increasing levels of solo living at all stages of the lifecourse, indicative perhaps of a redrawing of the boundary between family and household and a reshaping of the boundaries of different lifecourse stages. However, the evidence also suggests that transitions between solo living and living with others is commonplace, so that the boundaries between solo living and family living are frequently crossed. More research is needed to understand the ways in which people on their own are connected to families, friends and wider social relationships although preliminary evidence suggests considerable connectedness, challenging assumptions about the isolation of those living on their own.