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Children in multi-local post-separation families

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - MobileKids (Children in multi-local post-separation families)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

This project captures the diversity of children’s experience of multi-local post-separation family life and identifies their specific needs through the children’s own accounts of their lives.
This means determining how, and under what circumstances, children appropriate their multi-local lives and develop new forms of habitus that incorporate the capacity to maintain social relations in a multi-local
context through the appropriation of mobility and virtual connectedness.
We focus on children aged 10 to 16 who are living in multi-local, post-separation families in Europe that is, families where parents are either divorced or separated, live in different households within the same country, but share the physical custody of their child(ren).
The project combines three levels of analysis: the macro-level of policies, the meso-level of family environments, and the micro-level of children’s lives. This requires the gaining of new insights into how children’s interpersonal relationships and networks of significant others shape, and are re-shaped by their mobility in post-separation
families; and the interconnections between geographical and virtual mobility.
This study combines a policy analysis of multilocality, secondary data analysis of relevant databases, a qualitative, in-depth study of the lived experiences of 90 children, and semi-structured
interviews with children’s parents.
This project seeks to produce, through the lens of children’s experiences, new theoretical knowledge on the material and symbolic construction of societies. It will contribute in particular to a theory of society in which virtual and geographical mobility is seen as integral to territorially based social relations, and where post-separation family relations are recognized and supported.
During this period, our team worked on the socio-political contextualization of multilocality in recomposed families in the countries under study, by combining a literature review, documentary analysis of policies and regulations regarding child custody and children’s residence in case of divorce or separation, expert interviews with a range of stakeholders involved in family mediation, social work and Court decisions regarding child custody, a survey with family lawyers (in Belgium), secondary analysis of relevant databases, and a survey with children in secondary schools in Belgium, in partnership with the KULeuven, called the Louvain/Leuven Adolescents Survey.

Through a pro-forma questionnaire distributed to key informants in the three countries under study, we also collected information on family policies and regulations that frame shared custody arrangements.

Finally, we started our fieldwork with children and their relatives in the three countries under study, and disseminated preliminary results at scientific and stakeholders-oriented events, in scientific publications, and in interviews with the media.

More details can be found on our website.
This innovative project brings together in an unprecedented way a range of fields of research (mobility, multilocality, children and youth studies, family studies, ICT…) and different disciplines, namely sociology,
social geography and political science to address my core questions.

Our focus on children firmly locates this project within an emerging sociology of childhood that seeks to produce, through the lens of children’s experiences, a theoretical knowledge on the material and symbolic
construction of societies (Nunes De Almeida, 2006). We do so by addressing one of the key research questions that needs to be addressed by this field, that is, how the lives of children are affected by major
societal events such as recent changes affecting families in Western Societies (including higher divorce rate), and how children might, through their collective activities, contribute to society’s accommodation to such
changes (Corsaro, 2011: 33). Giving ‘voice’ to children is absolutely central in this project, particularly as children’s own accounts and experiences of contemporary changes have to date largely been overlooked.
Yet, listening to children’s voices and respecting their experiences, feelings and needs is central to enable them to manage the divorce of their parents (Williams, 2004: 54).

This project also contributes significantly to the study of children’s socialization in multi-local family arrangements by combining three conceptual approaches, namely multi-local living, virtual connectedness, and family relations; and by proposing a theoretical approach that combines three levels of analysis: the macro-level of policy and social context, the meso-level of family environments, and the micro-level of the agency and subjective perceptions of children themselves. This combination not only raises the question of the emergence of ‘deterritorialized’ or ‘multi-territorialized’ societies (Sussen, 2014), but also of the social inequalities that these societies might generate, and the role that governments might play in combatting these inequalities. What model of society should we create in order to deal with multilocal family arrangements, recognize and sustain this mode of living while reducing inequalities emerging from it? This project addresses a major scientific challenge by contributing to the development of a theory of society in which virtual and geographical mobility is both ‘normalised and seen as integral, rather than in opposition, to territorially based social relations’ (Glick Schiller and Salazar, 2013: 191), and where postseparation family relations characterized by intermittent co-presence are recognized and supported.

Fieldwork with children is based in a methodological approach that is relatively new to social sciences research (Luttrell and Chalfen, 2010). We draw on, and develop a series of creative, flexible children-centred methodological tools that combine interviews and participant observation with a set of activity-based methods of data production including participatory visual methods, and methods drawn from social
geography (see methodological section below). This is done through a process of regular evaluation and adaptation of the methodological tools used in this project.

Finally, with its emphasis on the role and place that communication technologies play in children’s experience of multilocality, this research interrogates the role that ICT play in the management and structuring of daily social relations. A major contribution of this project is to link different processes of appropriation of multilocality and capacity to maintain meaningful social relations, with the appropriation and uses of ICT. We are building on, and further developing studies of the digital divide defined not just as unequal access to technologies, but also as a dispositional matrix structuring processes of acculturation and familiarization to technologies that is shaped by pre-existing social, economic, geographical and cultural inequalities (Granjon, 2004). Beyond an account of how children mobilize technologies in their everyday lives, this research thus addresses the challenge of showing how specific media practices are embedded in existing and evolving social structures (Ito et al., 2010).
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