It would seem that even the big television networks are creating programmes around the concept of ‘the family’. From The Simpsons, Shameless, Rome, to the Tudors some very popular series have been made. But why are they getting such great ratings?
Perhaps it’s because everyone can relate to the idea of a family. But are families the bedrock of society that politicians believe?
One of my research themes that I work on with colleagues – James Cornford and Susan Baines – revolves around the family, and in particular how the government uses information system to ‘think’ family.
As we all know from our own personal lives: the idea of a ‘family’ – never mind the reality – can be very complicated.
Historically, under previous administration public bodies were asked to ‘Think Family’.
This has led to a number of government programmes that have encouraged services to integrate their facilities around families in order to co-ordinate support and intervention. This has led to a range of interests attempting to make sense of what to do about families.
Our research has shown that only when the government starts to grapple with the complexities of the ‘family’ will we really make progress with all sorts of families, including those who need the most support from our society.
However, this is not a jigsaw where the problem has a boundary and is solved by integrating pieces together.
Different bits of the state see different versions of the family – and different things entirely for one department a jigsaw for another a crossword puzzle.
For instance: schools think family in terms of parenting; social services in terms of potential risk; child support agency in terms of fatherhood; and parts of the NHS in terms of genetics, the police in terms of crime and so on.
Rather like our own families it is the stories (often supported by artefacts such as family albums) and the changes that happen that potentially brings these strands together.
So when we come back to examining what the government is doing with its troubled family agenda, we might ask the questions: what interventions are being delivered, using which version of the family, to which of the family members benefit, and with what accounts?
It is clear that rather than families being the static structures we think about in terms the way a family trees represents them, they are lived projects (rather similar to real trees and their ecologies) which evolve over time.
So in terms of family policy and practice those thinking about families need to have a more elastic idea of what families are to help those working with them and the families themselves to cultivate the best conversations they can have.
If you have a chance, you can read our recent research paper on the topic by clicking here
Dr Rob Wilson
Director of the KITE Research Centre and Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University Business School