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How families which fall short of the 'right' type respond to crisis

Open University academics have compiled evidence of how families which fall outside the traditional ‘right’ type of family, respond to crisis situations.

In a special issue of Discover Society on Families and Relationships Across Crises published on 3 May, Professor Jacqui Gabb and Dr Sara de Jong, convenors of the Private Lives and Public Intimacies and Justice Rights, Borders research streams of the OU's Citizenship and Governance priority research area, present evidence of how relationships are being shaped across multiple crises.

This research will also be celebrated at an event at Amnesty International on Friday 12 May, when key papers from the special issue of Discover Society will be presented.

One such example is a Crisis upon Crisis: Migrant families with No Recourse to Public Funds paper by OU Dr Umut Erel, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, on migrant families who are pushed to the margins of society as a result of poverty and racism. Dr Erel shows how policies such as the No Recourse to Public Funding policy means that migrants subject to immigration control are not allowed to access many benefits, tax credits or housing assistance. Dr Erel set up the Participatory Arts and Social Action Research project where she worked with a group of migrant mothers affected by this policy to make their collective voice heard, and by doing so, counteract the effects of social isolation.

Another paper, Befriending kinships in immigration detention in the UK, by OU Business & Law PhD student, Joanne Vincett, looks at the effects of detainees forming relationships with befrienders at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Joanne found that befrienders are sometimes the only visitors that detainees have and befrienders offer a new kinship which supports the detainee through a difficult period.

Other contributions explore in various ways how families, personal relationships and social networks are responding to state austerity and migration regimes by creating structures of support for those who are falling between the cracks.

As Dr de Jong and Professor Gabb state: “The focus on the ways that national policies are pushing relationships to the point of crisis, has taken on arguably urgent vigour as the consequences of Brexit on personal life begin to emerge. Here, we turn on its head the idea that the nuclear heterosexual family is in crisis, and instead show how resilient and enriching relationships are being shaped in the context of and across multiple crises.”

Register for the event at Amnesty International.

Discover Society is a publication of social research, policy analysis and commentary. Visit Discover Society.

Find out more about OU research in Citizenship and Governance.

Professor Jacqui Gabb

Professor of Sociology and Intimacy

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Professional biography

Dr Umut Erel

Senior Lecturer


Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Professional biography

Dr Sara de Jong

Research Fellow

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Professional biography