Do children resist? Everyday forms of resistance in the context of physical shared custody?

Recent trends in children’s books are demonstrating a shift towards a more empowering literature. Whether it is to encourage female “heroes” in stories with a larger aim to deconstruct patriarchal educational schemes starting in early childhood (see for example Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by E. Favilli and F. Cavallo), or to trigger critical thinking (see for example A is for Activist by I. Nagara, which teaches the alphabet by using empowering words such as Democracy, Grassroot, or Justice).

In academia as well, scholars are increasingly paying attention to early childhood civil consciousness. For instance, trying to approach activism and political consciousness over the life course, Nolas et.al. (2017) highlight how the practice of political talk is passed on to children. These studies are located within an emerging sociology of childhood that seeks to produce, through the lenses of children’s experiences, a theoretical knowledge on the material and symbolic construction of societies (Nunes De Almeida, 2006). David Morgan (1996)’s concepts of ‘doing’ family and ‘family practices’, which have been widely adopted by family sociologists, changed the vision of family as a fixed institution, into an understanding of family as a set of relations that need to be worked out – there is a plurality of ‘families’, which are defined by what they ‘do’, that is, by their ‘practices’. Furthermore, the sociology of childhood constructs 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 (James and Prout, 1997; Sirota, 2012). According to Petra Nordqvist, this “contributed to shifting the sociological gaze towards everyday actions, flows, rituals and habits” (2017: 866).

Among others, these are reasons why we decided to focus part of the MobileKids study on children’s everyday forms of resistance. Studying resistance performed by children might seem a bit strange or unusual. Resistance is usually perceived and understood either as a collective, public, organized, and nonviolent form of civil protest against a specific problem (linked to a specific authority), or as a violent revolt/insurgency meant to overthrow an authoritarian body. However, resistance actually has a much vaster meaning and scope. Studies have demonstrated that low key, hidden, and everyday forms of resistance have as much potential to undermine power as « traditional » confrontational means, and are usually at the basis of larger more structural manifestations of resistance (Scott, 1985; Johansson and Vinthagen, 2014; Van Meter, 2017).

In line with this impulse to look into how daily practices respond to power relations, we are thus curious to find out how children from separated parents create for themselves spaces of autonomy and develop creative ways to counter various situations that trouble them.

First, because children embody a subaltern position of particularly complex nature since they are subjected to parental authority, a power relation that is not necessarily negative (Foucault, 1972) – contrasting the often dark image that is associated with power – but has the particularity to oversee every other power relation that can be encountered in a child’s everyday life. Second, because ‘living in two homes’ potentially offers children more space and resources to respond to power relations, as shared custody arrangements are characterized by individualized and contradicting interdependencies among a large number of persons living in different households and who are linked indirectly (Widmer, 2010). In this context, children must develop autonomous behaviours to manage their family relations. This particular context potentially equips children with additional resources for the negotiation of power relations. For instance, they have the opportunity to leave a home marked by conflict and find space to breathe in the other one. Also, shared custody can potentially increase a child’s own power to set a parent against the other or by pretending to accept rules in one household while acting differently in the other. Finally, children can also exercise resistance to the specificities of shared custody as a whole.

Mobilizing the literature on everyday strategies/practices (De Certeau, 1988), part of this study will thus seek to grasp the power relations at play in children’s everyday lives and the creative responses that they construct, in relation to the particular context of shared physical custody, the mobility inherent to this situation, and possibly the introduction of new family members and figures of authority.

References:

Nolas, SM, Varvantakis, C, Aruldoss, V, (2017), “Talking politics in everyday family lives”, Contemporary Social Sciences, 12:1-2, 68-83.

Nunes De Almeida, A, (2006), La sociologie et la construction de l’enfance. Regards du côté de la famille. In. Sirota, R, Elements pour une sociologie de l’enfance, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Morgan, D, (1996), Family connections, Cambridge: Polity Press

James, A, Prout, A, (1997), Constructing and reconstructing childhood. Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood: Falmer Press

Sirota, R, (2012), “L’enfance au regard des Sciences Sociales”, AnthropoChildren, 1, 1-20

Nordqvist, P, (2017), “Genetic thinking and everyday living: On family practices and family imaginaries”, The Sociological Review, 64:4, 865-881

Scott, (1985), Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, New Haven: Yale University Press

Johansson, A, Vinthagen, S, (2014), “Dimensions of Everyday Resistance: An Analytical Framework”, Critical Sociology, 12: 1-19

Van Meter, K, (2017), Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, AK Press

Foucault, (1972), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, New York: Pantheon.

Widmer, E.D., (2010), Family Configurations. A structural approach to family diversity, Farnham & Burlington: Ashgate.

De Certeau, (1988), The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkley: University of California Press