Face 2 Face: tracing the real and the mediated in children's cultural worlds


Principal Investigator: Rachel Thomson, University of Sussex

Co-Investigators: Kate Howland (University of Sussex), Sara Bragg (University of Brighton), Mary Jane Kehily (Open University)

Project duration: 1 September 2013 - 30 September 2014


It is unusual for social research to be attuned to the temporal rhythms of everyday life, be these the long and slow processes that might be captured in stories that families tell about themselves, or the more intensive temporalities that structure the course of a day or characterise the lifecycle of a ‘craze’ or an argument.The proposed project will develop and evaluate a range of promising methodological tools for capturing and relating these extensive and intensive temporalities.

The project builds on the exceptional access and backstory provided by an existing data set in order to develop a new project which employs both online and off-line ethnographic methods, focusing attention on the youngest generation of the family with a substantive focus on the movement between face to face and mediated interaction in the lives of children. Taking place over 12 months the project is comprised of two linked parts. Part 1 extends family case studies developed as part of the ESRC funded Making Modern Mothers research (2005-10), through which children (now eight years old) have been followed from before birth. The original research team will revisit five families and repeat methods originally piloted with adults: a ‘day in a life’ observation, object- based interviews and a recursive workbook. The second part of the research, which will run concurrently, involves establishing a new panel of co-researchers aged 12-14, with whom we will explore intensive and mobile methods for exploring movement between face to face and online interaction, combining ethnographic observation and widely available technologies for tracking and collating of digital material.

The research will deliberately focus on the ways in which families define interactions in temporal terms – for example ‘play time’; ‘screen time’; ‘family time’; ‘homework’; ‘down-time’ etc. and the transitions between these. Wherever possible methods will be shared and adapted across the two parts of the study, facilitating the scaling-up of findings over time and space. Integration of the two parts of the study will be facilitated through integrated analysis and the evaluation of the methods by a group of expert advisors. A key objective of the project will be to work collaboratively with co-researchers and a media partner to create ethically sensitive open access documents of everyday childhoods over time. In doing so we will contribute to the development of ethical understandings in researching children’s lives, informing critical debates concerning the tensions between child protection and participation in researching childhood in a digital age.

Project outputs will include contributions on methods and ethics as well as substantive findings. The project team are ideally placed to undertake this research, being at the forefront of current developments in qualitative longitudinal research as well as leading researchers in the fields of childhood research and digital/ media cultures.

Listen to Liam Berriman talk about the project in NCRM podcast series.

For further information please see the project website.