Book Chapter

Belonging in difficult family circumstances: Emotions, intimacies and consumption



Wilson S (2015) Belonging in difficult family circumstances: Emotions, intimacies and consumption. In: Casey E & Taylor Y (eds.) Intimacies, critical consumption and diverse economies. Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 126-144.

Much work on young people’s material and consumer cultures has focused on the relatively affluent, and on those living with their parents. This chapter is concerned with the often more problematic material and affective circumstances of young people whose family difficulties have led them to be ‘looked after’ by the state. In particular, it focuses on the significance of material objects in helping to construct (or not) a sense of belonging, however ambivalent, in often successive places of residence. Further, while there has been much policy and research discussion of young people’s use of consumer items affording access to the internet and other electronic means of communication (Livingstone and Haddon, 2008; Livingstone et al., 2012; Osvaldsson, 2011), this chapter focuses on the importance of items of lesser monetary but often great affective or ‘sentimental’ value. As such, it draws on and develops recent literature on the role of consumption and material culture (Miller, 2008; 2010) in producing the self as a person who ‘belongs’ (May, 2013[A1][EC2]), and who can ‘display’ a family (Finch, 2007). In addition, this chapter discusses the research interview itself, in particular where, as in the project discussed, visual (and audial) methods are employed, as a place in which families and relationships may be ‘displayed’, through photographs of material objects and places or drawings of ‘ideal homes’. The chapter also explores the consumption of the artefacts produced in such research. On the one hand, these artefacts are analysed as possible means of drawing sympathetic attention to the material and relational absences and fragility associated with difficult family circumstances. It is argued that these items, if carefully used, have the potential to evoke the type of ‘haunting’ in a wider audience discussed by Gordon (2008) as a potential prompt for changes in the public imagination of groups whose difficult circumstances tend currently to be understood in individual terms. At the same time, the potentially more negative effects of research council requirements to evidence research ‘impact’ and to archive all data produced are addressed. In particular, the potential for archived photographic data to fix and reinforce stigmatised representations of difficult circumstances, and by extension of those associated with them, is discussed. [A1]AQ: Please provide complete details of this work to include in references [EC2]May, Vanessa.Connecting Self to Society.Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013

Young people; consumption; poverty;belonging

FundersEconomic and Social Research Council
Title of seriesPalgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life
Publication date31/10/2015
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publisher URL…t1=9781137429070
Place of publicationBasingstoke
ISSN of series978-0-230-51748-6

People (1)


Dr Sarah Wilson

Dr Sarah Wilson

Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology

Projects (1)