9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN13 Sociology of Families and Intimate Lives

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Transnational Families Building II, Auditório B1.03

The notion of "culture clash": Difference and belonging in families of mixed racial, ethnic and faith Backgrounds in Britain

Families headed by parents from different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds are increasingly visible in many European countries. Families with mixed parentage are often thought to be inherently prone to a problematic family dynamics, and the notion of "culture clash" is commonly used to explain the supposedly transient and problematic nature of relationships in these families. Very little is known, however, about how parents in mixed families negotiate cultural differences and create a sense of identity and belonging for their children. This paper describes a British study on parents´ every day negotiations of cultural differences and their approaches to fostering children´s sense of identity and belonging.

Qualitative individual in-depth interviews were conducted with 35 mixed parent couples (35 mothers and 30 fathers) who had at least one child between 7-12 years. We also carried out interviews with parents, children and both sets of grandparents in three inter-generational family case studies. An inductive analysis of the transcribed interviews was done.

Parents often described their families as "ordinary" and "normal". Irrespective of race, ethnic or religious backgrounds, they adopted a range of approaches to deal with difference and to pass on a sense of belonging to their children. Three "typical" approaches were identified as "individualised open", "collective mix" and "collective single". Though different approaches between parents or across generations within the family were observed, these were usually complementary and accommodative. "Mixedness" may be insignificant for some, compared to other issues. Often, the most difficult issue for mixed families was the response of others to their mixedness.

We found little evidence of inherent culture clashes in mixed families as is often suggested. How parents viewed difference and approached giving their children a sense of belonging cut across the idea that there is one "best" way that parents in mixed relationships can understand their children´s identity. It is important that policy makers and practitioners do not make stereotypical assumptions about mixed families. Mixed families, as with minority ethnic families generally, would benefit from policies and practices that focus on further tackling negative assumptions, discrimination and prejudice based on race, ethnicity and faith.