Researching relationships across generations and through time

Join us in this one day conference - a tribute to Professor Bren Neale at the point of her retirement.

This one day conference will be a tribute to Professor Bren Neale at the point of her retirement, and a celebration of her contributions to research, policy and practice relating to childhood, life course studies, family and welfare, qualitative longitudinal research, and data archiving and re-use.

In the morning we offer presentations showcasing the scope for qualitative data re-use and secondary analysis, through advancing research in the areas of family, generation and the life course. In the afternoon we offer presentations on researching temporal processes with reference to theory, qualitative longitudinal methodology and family and life course research. We also explore issues in research  collaboration and knowledge exchange. We bring together some leading proponents in these fields, both as speakers and participants, and will explore research, current conditions and opportunities, and directions for the future.

Conference Programme

Morning: Researching social life, Interrogating data re-use

Registration / Coffee

Professor Sarah Irwin, Dr. Kahryn Hughes  Introduction and welcome to the day

Dr. Libby Bishop  Beyond Stakeholders:  What is at stake?

Professors Henrietta O’Connor and John Goodwin Fieldnotes, marginalia and paradata in youth employment restudies, 1960-1985

Dr. Jane Gray  Researching family configurations across time and the life course

Discussant:  Dr. Kahryn Hughes
Discussant:  Professor Joanna Bornat

Plenary / All


Afternoon: Researching Relationships and society through time

Professor Bren Neale Time and the Life course: perspectives from qualitative longitudinal research

Professor Rachel Thomson Call and response: breaking the fourth wall in qualitative longitudinal research


Professor Tess Ridge  Understanding the ‘family work project’: researching low-income family life over time

4. 15
Professor Irene Hardill Mobilising knowledges in lifecourse research: critical reflections on co-producing knowledge

Roundtable / all speakers, and delegates: Future Directions

Professor Pia Christensen: Closing Comments

Please join us for celebratory drinks with Bren


Dr. Libby Bishop (University of Essex) Beyond Stakeholders:  What is at stake?

In developing a repository for qualitative longitudinal data, the Timescapes Project articulated a stakeholder model for archiving and sharing data.  In that model, archiving and reuse of data were integrated with data generation, from the very beginning of research design.  This was enabled through consultation among those generating data, those reusing data (and often linking it to new sources), and data curators.  In the nearly ten years since the inception of Timescapes more data of varied forms has accumulated, as have the systems and tools for its analysis.  Potential applications for data have expanded rapidly, but privacy concerns have grown as fast (or faster).  Consent procedures are infeasible for many forms of new data, and it is arguable if consent for an undefined future can be deemed “fully informed”.  Moreover, new algorithmic methods and data linkage may be calling into question current procedures for anonymisation and de-identification.  In the face of these challenges, there are calls to ground data initiatives in a fundamental respect for persons and human rights.  One consequence of such an ethical stance would be the need to recognise and involve those with “morally relevant interests” in the design and governance of data initiatives.  The stakeholder model took a significant step in this direction-connecting and building trust among data producers, users and curators-in order to make data available for research that would otherwise have remained inaccessible.  Now it may be necessary to consider expanding our approach to embrace all those with morally relevant interests in future uses of data if the full potential of data is to be realised.

Professor Henrietta O’Connor and Professor John Goodwin (University of Leicester) Fieldnotes, marginalia and paradata in youth employment restudies, 1960-1985

In the UK, as elsewhere in Europe, levels of youth unemployment are disturbing and currently stand at a rate of 22.2 per cent among 16–24 year-olds, with significantly higher rates among vulnerable populations such as early school-leavers. However, the vulnerability of young people, and concerns about their plight, is not a new phenomenon.  In 1984 unemployment among 16–24 year olds reached 19.6 per cent and in the 1980s, as with other recessions, youth unemployment was a major cause of concern, leading to talk about a ‘lost generation’. Drawing on our experience of secondary data analysis of both qualitative and quantitative historical data sources, this paper highlights the importance of fieldnotes, paradata and marginalia when revisiting studies from the past. We will use examples from three historical studies of youth employment, from the 1960s and 1980s, to illustrate the importance of these by-products of social research to the secondary analyst.

Dr. Jane Gray (Maynooth University) Researching family configurations across time and the life course

It has become widely accepted that, as societies age, families change towards a ‘beanpole’ structure in which the number and duration of vertical kinship ties begin to surpass lateral relationships.  However, we should be cautious about drawing inferences about the character or quality of family ties – and about the ways in which they may have changed over time – from data about the demographic availability of kin.  Research on family configurations has further shown that the importance of kinship relationships varies across the life course but whether that pattern was similar or different in earlier periods remains unclear.

This paper presents a qualitative longitudinal analysis of the changing textures and meanings of family configurations in different historical periods and at different life course stages, drawing on in-depth life story interviews with three birth cohorts of Irish people from the Life Histories and Social Change study, deposited in the Irish Qualitative Data Archive.  Through an analysis of the retrospective personal network schedules collected from each of the participants, I first develop a typology of life course family configurations within and across the three cohorts.  I then use that typology as the basis for a comparative interpretive analysis of the significance of inter- and intra-generational relationships in changing socio-historical contexts.  The paper demonstrates how a QL approach significantly enhances our understanding of continuity and change in family life patterns over time.

Bren Neale (Professor of Life Course and Family Research, University of Leeds) Time and the Life course: Perspectives from Qualitative Longitudinal Research

This presentation explores ways to conceptualise and study the life course, drawing on perspectives from Qualitative Longitudinal (QL) Research. Contrasting approaches to life course research are outlined, and ways of linking lived experiences with broader structural processes are explored, in a context where much existing research is under theorised. Drawing centrally on the work of Barbara Adam (Time and Social Theory) the presentation considers how temporality can be conceptualised and investigated, moving beyond clock and calendar time to reveal the fluid, multidimensional and recursive aspects of time. Varied ways of ‘slicing’ time are suggested, drawing on time as a theoretical construct, a methodological strategy and a substantive topic in its own right. The overall aim is to enrich life course research by bringing time and lived experiences more centrally into the picture.

Rachel Thomson (Professor of Childhood and Youth Studies, University of Sussex) Call and response: breaking the fourth wall in qualitative longitudinal research

In this paper I explore the ways in which qualitative longitudinal methods break the fourth wall of social research that enables us to maintain boundaries between the front and back-stage of the research process, subjects and objects and between researchers and researched. In the paper I focus on a moment within a family interview where mother Monica and son Lucien are invited to reflect on their involvement in a study that has followed them both from pregnancy. Building on earlier methodological reflections about the potential of QLR as a psycho-social method I consider QLR as a performative method with untapped potential for exploring connections between biographical, historical and family time.

Tess Ridge (Professor of Social Policy, University of Bath) Understanding the ‘family work project’: researching low-income family life over time

This presentation explores some of the challenges and rewards of carrying out qualitative longitudinal research with families. To do so it will reflect on the processes, principles and practicalities of carrying out QLR over a five year period with low-income working lone-mother families. It explores how mothers and children negotiate their family relationships and manage the demands of work and care over time. The study reveals some of the challenges inherent in conducting sensitive, complex QLR which, by its nature, draws the researcher deep in to the heartland of family life. Especially when – in the case of low-income lone-mother households – family life is often closely governed and problematised by outside agencies. For these families everyday family life can be unbalanced/shaped and ordered by changes in governance, welfare rules and the adequacy or otherwise of state support. In exploring the perspectives of mothers and children the study ‘The family work project: earning and caring in low-income households’   provides a valuable insight into the fluidity, complexity and diversity of low-income family life and family practices

Irene Hardill (Professor of Public Policy, Northumbria University) Mobilising knowledges in lifecourse research: critical reflections on co-producing knowledge

Interactions between academics and ‘research users’ such as policy makers and practitioners are not new, but in recent decades UK academics have been under increasing pressure to demonstrate the wider benefit of publicly funded research, for example when seeking Research Council UK (RCUK) funding, or with the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF).  Knowledge Transfer (KT) is a linear conceptualisation of interactions, with a uni-directional flow of knowledge, KT focuses more on outcomes rather than process. Knowledge Exchange (KE) implies a more subtle process of co-working, of interaction and exchange. Such a view involves the mobilisation of different knowledges, not merely epistemic knowledge, but also techne and phronesis (the knowledge of practitioners and citizens); as participants work together throughout the research process.  Moreover some social scientists embrace epistemological traditions that foreground the co-production of knowledge through user engagement, of working collaboratively and interactively, which is consistent with the long standing feminist goals of challenging hierarchical relations. In my qualitative research on understanding what moves people to undertake unpaid voluntary work I have worked collaboratively with research users employing  the lifecourse as a research method, and in my paper I will critically reflect on the opportunities and the challenges of co-producing knowledge with volunteers and voluntary and community sector organisations.