Home Language & Literature
Although efforts were made to recruit fathers as well as mothers, the final sample consisted of twenty-eight mothers and one father. This was not surprising as most of the participants were recruited through attendance at pre-school activities, and it is well known that mothers still tend to be the main carers of pre-school age children (Fine, 2010), especially within certain communities. However, given the nature of the interviews, and the focus on ‘the family’, participants were encouraged to talk about all central characters in their children’s lives, including mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, step-families and so on. This strategy proved to be very successful and the mothers in the study generally spoke at length about the fathers’ involvement in family life and shared reading activity.
Participants were aged 21 to 36+ years, with the majority being in the 26-35 category. Of the 29 families participating in the study, 14 had two children and their children were predominantly aged between 3 and 5 years. We asked participants to select their ethnicity and these were categorised as follows: White British/Irish (h=14); Asian/Asian British (w=7), Mixed White and Other (n=4), Arab (m=3) and black (1). In relation to educational qualifications, 12 participants were educated to degree level or higher, 8 to General Certificate of Education (GCSE) level while 5 stated that they did not possess any formal qualifications. All participants lived in inner-city areas that were considered as relatively disadvantaged on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation. Table 4.1 provides an overview of the sample. In order to protect the identity of all participants, pseudonyms were given to all adults and children and have been used throughout this book.
Our position and ethical implications
While all research is bound by ethical implications, research that takes place in participants’ homes carries a particular responsibility. This responsibility is first and foremost to the participants themselves, given that we are in the privileged position of being present in the private sphere of their home. This raises a number of issues for consideration such as ensuring that the participant is comfortable having a stranger (or relative stranger) in their home. The second responsibility is to the validity of the data itself; while this issue is not confined to research of this nature, if there is a power imbalance between participant and researcher, resulting in the participant feeling a need to provide responses that the researcher wants to hear rather than giving their own opinion, then this could pose a threat to the validity of the data. These two issues are tightly connected. This meant that we had to give very careful consideration to the relationship between participant and researcher in this study. On many levels we, as members of the research team, could be described as ‘outsiders’ to the participants; however, there were also factors that could help identify us an ‘insiders’.
The insider/outsider dilemma is an important consideration and has been addressed in other studies. For example, Gregory and Ruby (2011) presented a detailed account of the ways in which being an outsider to their research community (Gregory) and an insider (Ruby) raised different issues with regard to researcher positionality. Given that this research explored the family literacy histories of Bangladeshi British families in East London, Gregory speaks of the fact that she recognised that as an English speaker of white Anglo background, she would not be able to be an ‘insider’ when visiting these families. Even though Gregory was experienced in conducting research in these communities, and was accompanied by a Bangladeshi British researcher who acted as a mediator, she reported ‘I had still not quite anticipated the scope of my difficulties and the serious nature of the “faux pas” I would make as an “outsider”’ (166). The examples that Gregory provides in this paper show that even experienced ethnographers can make assumptions about families that they may come to define as being culturally naive. However, Gregory is also making the point that it is important to recognise for the outset if you are an ‘outsider’, rather than attempt to cross a boundary that is not possible.
Table 4.1 Table of participants
RESEARCHING EAMILY LIVES
the children have regular contact with their father
RESEARCHING EAM1LY LIVES
primary school aged child and a newborn
baby. Her 4-year-old niece and nephew permanently live with the family.
RESEARCHING EAMILY LIVES
RESEARCHING EAMILY LIVES
1 Lives with her £14,000-
RESEARCHING EAMILY LIVES
However, Gregory and Ruby also show how being an ‘insider’ can also raise dilemmas for researchers. Ruby reports her experiences as a researcher within the same population as Gregory; however. Ruby describes herself as a Bangladeshi and a Muslim. She talks about the fact that she entered the research with a desire to ‘empower voices’ within what she describes as a ‘traditionally marginalized community’ (169); however, she came to learn that some research participants were not willing to share their stories as they felt that she was ‘being “used” to “gather” information to “expose” the community’ (169). Even though Ruby reported that she felt like an ‘insider’, she concluded:
I still had to build trust and confidence between myself and the participants similar to being an ‘Outsider’ because I am entering as an ethnographer into a ‘protective’ area of a family and their lives. (169-170)
We were largely ‘outsiders’ to most of the families in our study. In many cases we differed from the families in terms of culture and ethnicity, but to varying degrees we also differed from some families in terms of our educational background. This was a serious issue for consideration given that, as we mentioned earlier, reading is a value-laden construct and it is not unusual for people to feel judged about their reading. It was therefore critical to the study that we built trust with our participants; this was aided by a few strategies. Firstly as explained earlier in this chapter, we ensured that the interviews were designed in such a way as to allow participants to talk freely about their daily lives and family practices and routines. In some cases we were about forty-five minutes into the interview before we even started asking questions about reading. Secondly, we made sure that we spoke specifically to participants about the fact that our intention was not to assess, measure or judge their reading, or the reading they did with their children, but we wanted to understand aspects of their family lives and the role of reading within.
The other factors that supported the development of trust between researcher and participant related to the conduct of the two research assistants who were involved in the study. Jenny began working on the study first, having just completed her own Ph.D. Her own doctoral research had focused on decision-making practices in low-income households, which meant that she was well practiced in talking to people in their homes about aspects of their everyday lives. Jenny also had a young child who was a similar age to the target children in the study, so this also helped in establishing a rapport between the researcher and the participant. Jenny was also involved in the recruitment of all participants from Dalton. As explained earlier, recruitment was a lengthy process that involved Jenny’s participation at many different children’s groups; this meant that Jenny had already established relationships with the participants before the interviews, and trust was already apparent between the two parties.
Jenny went on maternity leave at about the mid-point of this three-year study, and Mel (the second author of this book) became the second research assistant to work on the project. Like Jenny, Mel had completed her own doctoral research; however, she had also worked on several other research projects. Mel brought a background in sociology to the study, which has informed the research in a variety of ways. However, Mel also came to the study with experience of interviewing young people about their experiences of living with a parent who has young onset dementia. This again demanded a great deal of sensitivity within the researcher-interviewer relationship and Mel was highly skilled in interviewing participants under these conditions. In brief, both Jenny and Mel were able to employ sensitive and sophisticated interview skills, which allowed participants to talk freely about their daily lives.
The participants appeared to feel comfortable with the research and seemed to enjoy being interviewed. Interview transcripts were punctuated with laughter, conversations with children and anecdotes. In general, it appeared that participants enjoyed having an opportunity to talk about their lives and experiences, their children, their concerns and their hopes for the future. Each interview took its own course, and participants shared experiences of their own childhoods, their own journeys into parenthood and their relationships with family and friends. Given the complexity of family life, we were witness to stories of sadness and loss as well as joy and hope. All of this was cemented into a picture of the everyday ways in which reading, and shared reading activity, featured in their own lives and the lives of their children.
The ethical implications of our positionality as researchers entering the private space of participants’ homes, was a major consideration within this study; however, this was by no means the only ethical issue to consider. We made sure that participants were fully informed about our plans for the use of their data, including plans for publication, and that consent was given for this. We also ensured that all identifying information was removed from reports and publications and that pseudonyms would be used at all times. In addition, we felt that it was ethical that the participants should receive some direct benefit from taking part in the research, beyond the shopping voucher they received in return for their participation. We therefore planned a large dissemination event in the final month of the project, where all participants (including those taking part in the other studies) were invited to attend a session, in Dalton, with their children. This event was threefold, offering professional development for practitioners working with families, and activities for members of the general public, alongside an invited session for all research participants. This session included a story-based activity, a brief overview of salient findings from the studies, refreshments and the gifting of a goody bag; the goody bag included a children’s book, small gifts, information about reading activities in the families’ area and advice on how to promote and enjoy shared reading in the home. The whole event was extremely well attended with several hundred families attending the invited sessions.