Looking Back on Two Conferences We Participated in

During the past few months we have had the opportunity to share some preliminary results and reflections at two separate events. In August, we participated in the 14th Conference of the European Sociological Association 2019 “Europe and Beyond: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging” held in Manchester.

And in October, we participated in the conference “Changing Families, Changing Institutions?” held at the University of Turin and organized by the InFaCt research project.

And in October, we participated in the conference “Changing Families, Changing Institutions?” held at the University of Turin and

Throughout these presentations, we highlighted elements that are starting to emerge from our data around the cultural-normative frameworks that are shaping children’s lived experiences of shared custody arrangements in Italy and Belgium. These presentations represent our first attempts to confront both national contexts with regards to divorce/separation and the practice of shared custody. One of our main focuses concerned children’s role in the daily coordination of shared custody arrangements. After presenting the main characteristics of the everyday organization of this mode of living in both countries, we examined the specific roles that Italian and Belgian children, mothers and fathers play in the coordination of this multi-local living arrangement.

At the ESA, we took part of the Research Stream 05 “Multi-locality and Family Life” that aims at exploring the interconnections between mobility and family life by bringing together scholarship on transnational families and multi-locality. Combining both perspectives in one session helps to examine a wider range of families experiencing separation, distance and intermittent co-presence both within and across national borders, putting strong emphasis on locality as a source of identity and meaning for mobile people (Blunt 2007). The session at which we participated focused on “Multi-local family life: Challenging normative constructions of the family”. It offered us the opportunity to focus our presentation mainly on the concept of “democratic family” developed by François de Singly (2012) that portray the modern family as relational, individualistic and democratic. We exposed in a comparative approach to what extent the realities we encountered fit (or not) this model and in what ways the differences that emerged can be partly explained by national equality socio-cultural contexts.

While in Turin, we participated in a session on “Family Practices among New Families”. In particular, we shared the floor alongside two other presentations focused on children: one given by Sveva Magaraggia (University of Milano-Bicocca) on cultural and gendered perceptions children have about their future, and the other one given by Caterina Satta (University of Cagliari) on family practices among those participating in the childrenswear fashion system. Here, we emphasized the importance of taking into consideration, the link between these cultural-normative frameworks and the relationship both national contexts have towards the concept of space. That is to say, how families give (less) importance to their relationship towards their homes or their neighborhoods, how children are (less) attached to these two spaces and the meaning they confer to them with regards to their multi-local family practices. In addition, we looked at how these relationships and practices are influenced by national understandings and experiences of the “gender contract” (as developed by Jane Lewis 1992); namely, the gendered roles parents assume – connected to national welfare regimes – and how this impacts the daily practice of shared custody. 

What came out of these presentation is the reality of a quite varied practice of shared custody in both countries, among others in terms of family roles – among which, gendered roles – , children’s participation in household work, equity, decision making, or how the best interest of the child is interpreted. We understand that cultural-normative frameworks of course impact on these realities, but we are still trying to understand the structural determinants. We were lucky to benefit from interesting exchanges with the audience, further guiding us in the analysis of our data.

Author:

Laura Merla

I am professor of sociology and member of the CIRFASE at the UCLouvain, Belgium. For the last 10 years I have specialised in the study of family relations in a context of geographical distance, whether in the context of migration or family separations/recompositions.