This special issue of the journal Reset aims to show how the Internet, and ICTs in general, support families through trials and life events, and how these tools for everyday communication shape family routines, relations, and hierarchies. How are the Internet and ICTs used to build up and tie bonds within families? What do their uses say about the strains of the birth of a child, their growing-up and leaving the parents’ house, of break-ups, geographic mobility, retirement, widowhood, drug dependency, and so on? Reset also invites authors to focus on methodological issues regarding research in this area: what for instance are good ways to collect data such as imprints of ICT uses?
From the 1970s on, numerous works on family brought to light its paradoxical evolution. On the one hand, family remained a core element in the lives of individuals, shaping their material reality as well as their values. On the other hand, the family in its traditional, nuclear form became a fragile institution, as documented by the decline in marriage and rise in divorce rates, the birth of new familial configurations, etc. But at the same time the family is increasingly studied as a social form charged with emotion and intimacy (Bawin-Legros, 2003 ; de Singly, 1996 ; Shorter, 1977). Individuals try to find fulfilment in these relations, where affection prevails over authority (de Singly, 1993, 1996, 2000). New obligations burden the family, now considered as a place for self-construction (de Singly, 1993, 2000). Family members are led to actively create and foster their relationships which are no longer taken for granted. Conflicts arise around the meaning of family relationships which lead to redefinitions of the boundaries between collective and individual spaces within the family.
When confronting adversity or life changes, the tension between the contradictory principles of family life becomes more acute. These are indeed moments when actors are forced to find a compromise which allows them to reaffirm their autonomy and control over their own life without disengaging from family solidarity (Martucelli, 2006)
Against this general backdrop of new ways of creating and maintaining of family relations, the use of cellphones and Internet communication is clearly of interest. Parents and children exchange text messages to inform one another of their activities (Martin, 2007), couples sort out household affairs via email (Le Douarin, 2007) and email or telephone conversations constitute an important medium for cultivating family bonds (Segalen, 1999 ; Le Douarin, Caradec, 2009).
Moreover, the advent of these technologies entails the possibility to nourish social ties at all places and all times but also entails an extended surveillance over other family members’ activities. At the same time, the technologies make for new spaces of autonomy and intimacy (Martin, 2003), as can be seen in the case of new forms of conjugal infidelity (Le Douarin et Le Vand, 2010). In addition, the Internet also sustains the creation of a “family facade” online that presents an idealised image of family life, a similar phenomenon of which has also been studied with the uses of photography (Bourdieu, 1965 ; Boutet 2009).
The analysis of uses and roles of ICTs in family life offers a possibility to shed light on family norms and the “moral economy” of a particular family unit (Siverstone, Hirsch, Morley, 1992). In many ways this “new” social practice indeed reveals the underlying dynamics of an old institution (Le Douarin, 2007). RESET therefore welcomes proposals that contribute to a better understanding of ICT use within the family as well as proposals that examine more generally what these technologies can tell us about today’s family and the particular challenges that it has to confront.
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