Approach and findings

We are an interdisciplinary collaboration of social science academics representing Sociology, Gender Studies, Law, Geography and Education. We are very much interested to make connections and take our thinking forward with other researchers who may be working around related themes in different disciplinary, international, and applied contexts. The indicative resource list below is very much a work in progress. Please do get in touch with us if you would like to connect, or have any recommendations or connections. You will also find a list in progress of academic and non-academic events and other fora through which we are discussing the research.

We have presented emergent findings in the paper ‘Researching families in transition’, presented at the 13th Conference of the European Sociological Association: (Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities, August 2017, Athens, Greece.

We are also working in an edited collection which will be published in 2019: Murray, L., McDonnell, E., Hinton-Smith, T., Ferreira, N., Walsh, K. (eds.) Families in Motion: Space, Time, Materials and Emotion. London: Emerald Publishing (forthcoming 2019).

Previous researchers (Duncan and Philips 2010; Stoilova et al. 2017) have explored contemporary experiences of ‘Living Apart Together’ (LAT) – couples who are involved in an intimate relationship together but live in separate homes through choice or lifestyle constraints such as children or other dependents. While this is clearly important in societies no longer dominated by traditional, co-habiting nuclear or extended families, we wanted to tell the stories of peoples’ less often spoken of but equally important experiences of sharing a home with a former partner – whatever the reasons. Reasons might once again include children or other dependents, but also housing or financial constraints, alongside other factors. We are aware that many people are simultaneously Living Together Apart with a former partner while Living Apart Together in a new relationship.

Our approach

We embarked on the Families in Transition project as a group of social scientists interested in our own experiences of family and wanting to use these as a springboard to contribute to understanding of contemporary developments and experiences of ‘doing family’ in ways that include continuing the practice and performance of family after a relationship has ended.

As such we chose to embark on the journey with a collaborative autoethnographic approach (Chang et a. 2013; Hernandez et al. 2017; Santiago et al 2016), with the goal of using personal experience to understand cultural experience (Ellis, 2004). It felt to us only equitable that we interrogate our own experiences, meanings and understandings of being part of family experiences that we felt transgress ideal norms, before embarking on the process of inviting others to do the same.

Our collaborative autoethnography so far has been a process in which self-inquiry, joint inquiry and system inquiry have been used to develop our knowledge and action Torbert 2004), with a common purpose around reflexivity. This has been aimed at tapping into a deep and immersive understanding of experiences such as ethnographic approaches are identified as able to generate. Reflexivity is recognised to be potentially personal or academic (Hernandez et al. 2017). As academics reflecting on our personal family lives, we have sought to bring the academic and personal into relation and in doing so uncover some of the complexities of families in transition. We see this approach as having helped aided us in navigating the emotional terrain of non-normative family practices.

Emergent findings

So far, from our ethnographic research, we have found:
1. Families are always transitional – produced, practiced and ‘on the move’: family is fluid and in constant flux, in continual production, a process.
2. Families are spatially and socially constructed – through time and space: family is always both ‘in place’ and mobile.
3. Living together apart (LTA) is as significant a contemporary family practice as LAT: It is potentially an increasingly relevant practice of family in the UK in the context of austerity.
4. In LTA families there is an increased intensity of experiences and different tensions emerge: LTA families are characterised by a distinctive set of social relations based on intensity of experience and particular social and spatial tensions and resistances.