“… like a point and a line in basic geometry”:
Rethinking a conceptual configuration that underpins the study of
modern families and parental caregiving in the global north
Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work, and Care
Professor of Sociology/ Women’s and Gender Studies, Brock University
The study of modern families involves a myriad of challenges as researchers attend not only to the complexities of diverse household formations and practices, but also to the difficulties of coming to know people’s personal and intimate lives. My presentation addresses conceptual challenges that plague the study of everyday family lives and practices. Rooted in a twenty-year research program on breadwinning mothers and stay-at-home/secondary earning fathers and using a wide spectrum of relational theories and ontologies, ethics of care scholarship, and new feminist materialisms, I focus specifically on how we research and theorize parental caregiving practices and responsibilities.
I argue that many studies of parental caregiving in the global north have been informed by a conceptual configuration of gender divisions of domestic labor that relies on particular ontological, theoretical, epistemological and methodological concepts; this conceptual configuration includes specific concepts of subjectivities, care as divisible into measurable time units, and boundaries between work/care/consumption. There is a logic to how these concepts fit together; they are linked, as sociologist Margaret Somers notes, “like a point and a line in basic geometry.” My presentation builds from a different “point and line,” as I aim to construct an alternative conceptual configuration for researching, theorizing, and making arguments about meanings and practices of parental care in twenty-first–century family life.