MobileKids at the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology.


MobileKids’ whole team will be present at the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology, to be held in Toronto, Canada, on July 15-21, 2018. All five researchers have respectively been selected to present papers on various subject connected to Children in Multi-Local, Post-Separation Families. Laura Merla (PI) will be discussing the articulation between their digital and physical mobilities, spatial embeddedness and social relations. On a similar matter, Kristina Papanikolaou will be presenting a paper on the role of children’s digital practices in the creation and maintenance of family routines and feelings of intimacy inside a multilocal everyday life. Focussing on the identity construction of children from mixed couples, Maryse Baar will outline several innovative and active methods used for an egocentric network analysis. The various strategies, tactics and daily practices that children develop to construct a sense of home in various space will also be emphasized throughout Bérengère Nobels’ paper. Finally, Sarah Murru will reflexively analyze a sequence of her Institutional Ethnography: how several creative methods – aimed at grasping these children’s standpoint – can dialogue with the textual material that is present in their everyday lives. Alongside these papers, Laura Merla will be also leading with Anna Kurowska (Warsaw University) a session on Children in welfare states and family policy analysis. All if these contributions highlight the variety of subjects that are tackled inside the MobileKids research project. To learn more about these, clic below to read the 5 abstracts.

Laura Merla

Understanding the articulation between digital and physical mobilities, spatial embeddedness and social relations through the lens of children growing up with two ‘homes’.

RC53 Sociology of Childhood – Session « Capturing the Social through the Lens of Childhood »


In this paper I will present the main theoretical foundations of the ongoing ERC Starting Grant project « MobileKids: children in multi-local, post-separation families”, which seeks to understand how the lives of children aged between 10 and 15 are affected by divorce, mobility and multilocality in the context of shared custody arrangements, and how children accommodate to this family situation and develop practices that might contribute to society’s response to these major changes in contemporary family life. The project investigates in particular the diversity of children’s experience of multi-local family life in Brussels, Torino and Lyon, and seeks to identify their specific needs, through children’s own accounts of their experiences. This means determining how, and under what circumstances, children appropriate their multi-local lives and develop new forms of habitus that incorporate mobility, virtual connectedness and the capacity to appropriate them and act upon them, which is in turn particularly valuable in societies where mobility (social, geographical, professional, etc.) is increasingly becoming a new stratifying factor (Glick Schiller and Salazar, 2013; Ohnmacht et al., 2009). I will argue that children growing up between – and across – two households represent a key entry for developing empirical and theoretical knowledge on the inter-relations between mobility (including virtual), spatial embeddedness, and social relations. The micro-level everyday practices of those children indeed opens up a window for a better understanding of the characteristics, and articulation of: a)    the spatialisation of ‘family’, which questions the relations between « life spaces » (multilocal residentiality) and « lived space » (or the intimate network of someone’s real and imaginary places and territories) (di Méo, 2012), and brings forward the importance of space/time articulations, in a context where “choreographies of existence” (Duchêne-Lacroix, 2010) are produced through the management and coordination of intermittent absence and co-presence within, and across households; b)     virtual mobility and virtual connectedness, which allow for the development of new repertoires of connectedness and co-presence that transcend space and time, and interrogate the role that ICT play in the management and structuring of daily social relations.

Kristina Papanikolaou

The Role of Children’s Digital Practices in the Creation and Maintenance of Family Routines and Feelings of Intimacy in Multilocal Everyday Life

RC06 Family Research – Session « Studying Family Life, Digital Technologies, and Social Media: Perspectives and Methods »


The explosion, development and varieties of ICTs offer a new “polymedia” environment of communicative opportunities (Madianou & Miller, 2012). This polymediatic universe contributes to shape a “connected presence” which is according to Licoppe the base of the interpersonal relational attachments of our time (Licoppe, 2012). However it remains difficult to evaluate the effects of digital technologies on family life, even more from the perspective of children. In this paper, I present the preliminary results of the first wave of data collection of the doctoral project “Growing up ‘connected’: social ties and digital practices within and around the family mosaic “developed in the framework of the ERC Starting Grant project “MobileKids: Children in multi-local, post-separation families’. This doctoral project highlights in particular how children who live between two homes in the context of post-separation shared custody arrangements (re)compose and maintain their social ties through their digital practices.  I postulate that the use of digital media can be perceived both as a social resource to manage multilocal life, and a symbolic resource of mediatized identity construction which leads to an almost permanent multimodal connectedness (Schroeder, 2010). I will focus in particular on the characteristics and role of children’s digital practices in the creation and maintenance of family routines and feelings of intimacy in a multilocal context. A special emphasis will be placed on the methodologies that I used to encourage children aged between 10 and 13 to share their experiences and practices, and which combine socio-spatial network games,  virtual ethnography (as scrolling back on FB (Lincoln et Robards, 2017), and visual sociology.

Maryse Baar

The Use of Innovative Methods with Children from Mixed Parents Living Under Shared Custody Agreements

RC06 Family Research – Session « Testing Concepts, Methods and Methodologies to Study Families Across Borders and Cultures: New/Classical Tools and Mobility Discourses


This paper will draw attention on the identity construction of children from mixed couples (parents from different ethnical backgrounds) who are living under equal shared custody agreements after the separation of their parents. I will seek to understand how they position themselves in reference to both cultural backgrounds in the context where family socialization takes place in two different households. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Belgium with children aged 10 to 13, in the context of the research program “MobileKids: Children in Multi-Local, Post-Separation families” (ERC Starting Grant project under the supervision of Prof. Laura Merla), the paper will focus on innovative and active methods used for an egocentric network analysis: Network map (Hertz, Olivier, 2012) and Socio Spatial Network Game (Schier, 2015). By playing, those methods will allow us to understand the strategies used by the children to navigate between these two households where the norms and values may be different in a multi-local and multi-cultural context. While transnational families and mixed families have been extensively studied in the recent years (Baldassar, Merla 2014; Fresnoza-Flot, 2017), studies focusing on the experience of children living in post separation mixed families have largely been overlooked up to now.

Bérengère Nobels

Strategies, Tactics and Daily Practices of Children from Separated Parents, Living in Equal Shared Custody Agreements in Belgium.

RC53 Sociology of Childhood – Session « Power, Participation and Agency »


Since the 1960s, the definition of the family has changed greatly. From the nuclear family, immobile and sedentary, associated with a single place of residence, we move on to a wider and more mobile family associated with different places of residence (Widmer and al., 2008). As part of my doctoral thesis, I am particularly interested in these multilocal families and more specifically in the way in which the children from separated parents, living in equal shared custody agreements, maintain their family relations from one house to the other (Schier and al., 2015). Considering children as social actors (Gullov and al., 2015, James and Prout, 1997), I aim at understanding how they define and construct their ‘home’ in this context of circular mobility. My field of research is conducted in Belgium (Brussels and its periphery), with children aged 10 to 13 years. I mobilize with them different visual and participatory methods (photography, drawing) and others coming from social geography (Socio-spatial network game, commented path). Participating in this session would be an opportunity for me to share some preliminary results about a central dimension of my research project: how these children, for whom their different living spaces are fragmented and multiplied, establish potentially links between them, what represent here, there and the in-between for them, how an “archipélisation” of these different living spaces is created (Duchêne-Lacroix, 2010). I will highlight different strategies, tactics and daily practices that children would develop to deal with these absences and presences and to establish links as well as ruptures inside these spaces (Schier and al., 2015; Winther, 2015).

Sarah Murru

A Reflexive Analysis on the Use of Social Spatial Network Games (SSNG) and Pictures for Institutional Ethnography: The Case of Children Living Under Shared Custody Agreements.

TG06 Institutional Ethnography – Session « IE and Other Concepts: Configuring Apparatus for Inquiry »


This paper presents the mobilization of two specific methods inside an IE about MobileKids: Children in Multi-Local, Post-Separation Families (ERC Starting Grant project – supervision: Prof. Laura Merla). The aim of this ongoing study is to grasp the standpoint of children living under equal shared custody agreements – particularly as children’s own accounts and experiences of contemporary changes have largely been overlooked up to now. Considering children as active social actors that can, to various extents, exercise agency and influence on their own lives as well as on the lives of the people surrounding them, I look at the process of moving from one house to the other every week and ask how children maneuver inside this mobility. The specificity of this project lies in the parallelization between the analysis of the textual material present in the work that is done to move from one place of residence to the other, with an explicit production of texts by the children. To grasp their standpoint, I develop a sequential set of activities that represent creative ways to open their narratives about their everyday lives: (1) A session with Social Spatial Network Games (SSNG) – a kind of board game where children can concretely construct their experience of their multi-local everyday life; (2) children are asked to take pictures during the action of moving from one house to the other and we go over the meaning behind them; (3) I participate in the double move – from one parent’s house to the other’s, and back. In this paper, I shall reflexively and critically address the use of SSNG and pictures, which represent texts of a particular nature: they hold discursive meaning about the children’s standpoint yet are not initially present in their everyday lives, as they are a production of the research design.

ISA Conference Session: Children in welfare states and family policy analysis (RC06 Family Research), organized by Laura Merla (UCLouvain) and Anna Kurowska (Warsaw University).

In family policy and welfare regime research the child perspective (understood here as children’s position and entitlements, and the underlying normative conceptions of childhood) has been largely overlooked. Care-related welfare and family policies are mainly targeted at adult citizens/workers (especially women, as primary carers) and research has focused on women’s rights and gender issues. Yet, the child perspective is an important analytical framework for these fields, in particular in the context of UNCRC, which established in 1989 children’s right to have their best interests assessed and taken into account as a primary consideration in all public actions or decisions that affect them. Studying the inequalities that children face in family and social policies becomes increasingly complex because of major contemporary trends such as the diversification of family forms, and processes of civic stratification in response to migratory flows. Shifting the focus from adult citizens/workers’ right to give and receive care, to children’s own right to be cared for, provides a useful lens to study these inequalities.

This session includes papers on a variety of topics, such as:

  • Inequalities in children’s access/eligibility to care-related schemes due to non-standard family models or non-standard citizenship status of parents ;
  • Inequalities in access/eligibility and generosity of care-related schemes according to birth order;
  • The role of grandparents in childcare and their access to childcare-related schemes;
  • Reconsidering welfare regime and family policy typologies in view of new criteria formulated within the child perspective;
  • Combining the child perspective with gender equality