Card image cap
Card image cap

No 31 - 2018

What are families doing in the digital age? Socio-digital technologies and family, marital and intergenerational bonds
Directed by Sylvie Jochems, Claire Balleys, Olivier Martin

Contemporary families and digital practices : which adjustments for which norms ?
Claire Balleys, Olivier Martin, Sylvie Jochems

Research framework : Sociological knowledge about the articulation of digital practices and family life still needs developing. In this context, this journal issue and introductory article explore the marital negotiations and the parent-child relationship which are being transformed by these digital practices, the forms of supervision mediated by these technologies or, conversely, the new ways in which autonomy is acquired, the balance between peer-to-peer socialisation and family socialisation, as well as the connection between gender roles and the ways in which these technologies are used by couples and families.

Objectives : This introductory article is designed to present the current state of research on these topics and to problematise the corpus of articles that was selected.

Methodology : By means of a literature review, we are placing this special issue in the broader context of publications that, for nearly twenty years, have been dedicated to topics bringing together works on the family and works on communication technologies and the internet.

Results : In the first section, we will point out that this field of research is yet to be developed. In the following sections, we will show how the articles in this themed issue largely demonstrate that family digital practices reflect current social norms, as well as the tensions these norms may create. Although this analysis is not new (Pasquier, 2018), it is refined by the multiplicity of actors, discourses, and methodologies.

Conclusions : As a result of the evaluation and selection of the articles, this themed issue is intended to give a voice to sociologists influenced by a relationist approach and a constructivist language. These articles deal with intimacy and fall within the framework of the sociology of everyday life, taking a close look at ordinary practices. Technological deterministic analyses (Jauréguilberry and Proulx, 2011) are therefore less present. Scholars interested in these topics will find that much remains to be done, and the constant evolution of these practices and technologies ensures that there will always be new questions to address.

Contribution : This themed issue contributes to the dialogue between various sociological studies of the individual and his or her relationship to norms, where some believe that the norms govern the individual (structuralism), while others believe that the individual negotiate and co-creates the norms regulating these ‘good practices’ (pragmatism, interactionism). Moreover, this introductory article will provide a short but necessary survey of French-language sociological knowledge about families in the digital era – a way to remind ourselves and our readers of the Foucauldian idea that scientific works about a research topic are not neutral.


“Connected entertainment” in the home: a survey of young Quebecers’ practices
Florence Millerand, Christine Thoër, Nina Duque, Joseph Josy Lévy

Research Framework: The Internet constitutes one of the most popular means through which youth watch audiovisual entertainment content (such as movies, series, YouTube videos).

Objectives : This article presents the results of a study on online audiovisual content viewing practices by young Quebecers aged 12 to 25 and examines how these practices relate to family life.

Methodology : The strategy used is based on a mixed method approach combining both qualitative data (14 focus groups of 82 participants and 29 individual interviews) and quantitative data (survey questionnaire composed of 1500 young Quebecers aged 12 to 25 years).

Results : The results reveal that youth viewing practices are strongly individualized. They also show an increase in youth autonomy with respect to the types of contents watched and the viewing times. These online practices offer opportunities for sharing and expressing family ties, going as far as contributing to the development of specific family viewing rituals and practices.

Conclusions : If the family is the first place in which young people are socialized to television, it also plays a role in the development of online audiovisual viewing practices. In return, these digital practices appear to contribute to autonomy acquisition among young people, including the younger ones.

Contribution : By bringing new knowledge about connected entertainment among young people and its place in family life, the article makes visible the social and scientific relevance of research on the social uses of technology among young people.


Family Dynamics around Teenagers' Screen Practices
Barbara Fontar, Agnès Grimault-Leprince, Mickaël Le Mentec

Research Framework: This article focuses on the relations between parents and their children during adolescence, follow on from researches in sociology of education and sociology of cultural practices. It shows how the parent-child relationship is destabilized during adolescence by new reference models related to the development of a youth culture.

Objectives: This article explains how digital practices are integrated and negotiated within the family. It presents different modes of parental regulation of teenagers digital uses linked to parents’ representations of digital tools and uses.

Methodology: This work is based on interviews with adolescents (n= 78) and some of their parents (n= 28), and 1043 answers from two questionnaires, one destined to the adolescents and one to their parents.

Results: The results show four main types of parental regulations (equipment, screen time, space and content) which are developed in different ways related to conflicting « objects » and family educational goals.

Conclusions: Our survey reveals that parents have ambivalent views about ICT. These ambivalences are found in their modes of regulation which vary according to the social origin.

Contribution: This article shows the complexity of family dynamics related to the regulation of teenagers digital uses. The digital culture of parents and their evolving representations of digital over time are disrupting traditional family educational patterns.


« Wait two seconds, I have to answer… »: issues and negotiations within families around the socio-digital uses of their teenagers
Nathalie Dupin

Research Framework: The fast and massive arrival of mobile digital technologies has been the subject of much research in the past few years, but the socio-digital uses within families and the upheavals they arouse in relationships between parents and teenagers are little known and poorly documented.

Objectives: This article aims to determine how teenage uses of screens, including cell phones, are negotiated and integrated within families.

Methodology: This qualitative study relies on one hand on individual interviews conducted with fifty-five high school students educated in urban and rural areas, from families belonging to popular, middle and privileged classes. The study is completed by some interviews with middle school students and parents of teenagers. On the other hand, this research relies on a participative observation at Net Ecoute, a national helpline dedicated to the protection of minors on the Internet,

Results: The age at which teens get their first cell phones or smartphones, as well as the associated mobile plans, the socio-digital uses and the connection time, can require intense negotiations within families, even if they are not always obligatory. Connection rules or screen time limitations are sometimes set by parents, more clearly and more frequently in urban and socioculturally more advantaged families. While socio-digital uses may in some cases strengthen family ties, many parents remain worried that their family balance will be disrupted and endangered by the socio-digital uses and the connexion time of their children.

Conclusions: This study shows the importance of considering teenage socio-digital uses in family contexts, and not only in an individual and isolated way, by taking into account only the friendly and cultural spheres. Teenage socio-digital uses are the reflection of the global living environment of teenagers.

Contribution: This article is intended to provide a better understanding of the diversity of teenage socio-digital uses and the associated negotiations. It brings new knowledge on the integration of socio-digital technologies among more or less privileged families living in urban or rural areas.


Being a Family with Internet: A Survey among Working Classes Mothers
Bénédicte Havard Duclos, Dominique Pasquier

Research Framework: Over the past ten years or so in France, households headed by blue collars and employees have caught up on their delay in connecting to the Internet at home.

Objectives: Has the integration of the Internet in these households been carried out in the same way as in households of executives and intermediate professions who equipped themselves earlier? Does it have the same meaning? What transformations does the arrival of the Internet bring about in the domestic context and in family dynamics?

Methodology: This article is based on a semi-directive interview survey (N=41) of mothers working in the personal services sector and living outside large urban areas in France.

Results: The survey shows a significant tension. On the one hand, the mothers we met are convinced that the Internet is a guarantee of better academic and professional success for their children, which generates a real « duty of connection » in the name of modernity and social conformity. On the other hand, they note that the tool is time-consuming and disrupts family life both in the couple’s relationships and between parents and children. Without regulatory model coming from the previous generation, they tinker with daily tactics to limit the potential for individualization of tools by establishing a principle of transparency of practices and encouraging co-attending uses.

Conclusions: The regulation of the Internet in this stable fraction of the working classes is a model that is being sought and remains based on trial and error and compromise. However, the priority given to family ties seems to be a major issue in arbitration: discourses continue to value the family « we » with great consistency, expressing, if not a reality, at least a strong aspiration.

Contribution: This research highlights the specificities of family Internet regulation methods in the stable fractions of the working classes. It is also interested in couple’s regulations, which are rarely studied in the existing literature.


Internet forums about children’s first names : between prescriptions and normativity
Laurence Charton, Catherine de Pierrepont

Research Framework : Internet, and particularly discussion forums, is an important medium for some mothers-to-be when the time comes to choose the first name for their child.

Objectives : This article examines the concerns and main criteria put forward when choosing a first name for a newborn and how users exchange information and ideas on these forums.

Methodology : The studied corpus is composed of posts from the 22 French forums of discussions selected on the site « Doctissimo », section « Baby Pregnancy », subsection « First names » posted by 198 netizens between September 2015 and December 2016 (about 722 pages in Word format). The content of these forums was analyzed according to the Ecuyer’s method (1990).

Results : Although choosing a first name is now more a matter of couples than family line (s), the search for a first name is still most often a « women’s business », as confirmed by the gendered use of these forums on first names, and by the importance given to gender and class distinctions which are observed through the prescriptions shared on the forums. These are grouped into three categories of criteria. The first underlines the importance of an « original » but « non-invented » first name. The second refers to a belonging or a social identity. The last one put forward a parental project. These criteria are deployed through nine types of exchanges (interactions) between Internet users.

Conclusions : These first name discussion forums offer advice, guidance and support to women with questions about the choice of their child’ first name. Also, for expectant mothers, it allows them to enroll in a maternity / parenting process. Through the stated criteria of choice of first names and the roles assigned to each future parent, the content of these forums also highlights social relations of gender and class.

Contribution : This exploratory study highlights some of the limits to the freedom to name one’s child. If prospective parents can choose the first name of their child outside the influence of their family, their relatives and institutional guidelines, to name remains an act under influence, highly standardized.


Les mères célèbres sur Instagram : ce que nous révèlent leurs mises en scène de l’allaitement
Chantal Bayard

Research Framework: In recent years, images of breastfeeding mothers have multiplied on social media. Censored until 2015, these images are now allowed on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Unlike non-famous mothers, celebrities have followed the trend by publishing breastfeeding photographs on Instagram. The popularity of these women has helped to increase the visibility of breastfeeding in public spaces, a practice still criticized and perceived as being private.

Objective: In this article, we seek to better understand the phenomenon of celebrities who publish photographs of breastfeeding on the social network Instagram.

Methodology: We conducted a qualitative analysis of 50 breastfeeding photographs published, between January 2014 and August 2016, on the public and verified Instagram accounts of 13 celebrities practicing the professions of model, actress, singer and TV host.

Results: Our research has shown that celebrity breastfeeding photographs on Instagram serve multiple purposes. They allow these women to mark their maternity in their family and professional trajectories while being advertising and participating in the development of their brand. They also participate in the construction of the social discourse in favor of the normalization of breastfeeding in the public space. Finally, the images published by celebrities on Instagram present a form of idealized maternity.

Conclusions: Celebrity breastfeeding photographs depict « high-performance » mothers who breastfeed their child without difficulty, who readily combine work and breastfeeding, maintaining a neat physical appearance and postnatal body « in control ». Through their images, these women offer an idealized way of being a mother, not accessible to the majority of women who consume their images on Instagram.

Contributions: Our research captures the contribution of celebrities to the development of breastfeeding and maternity standards.


Foster-care children and connected families : Toward a socio-legal approach of digital correspondence within the family
Émilie Potin, Gaël Henaff, Hélène Trellu, François Sorin

Research Framework : Socio-digital practices encourage in many ways various patterns of family ties, especially during events such as placement or changes in living areas (Pharabod, 2004). They stimulate a relationship distanced by the geographical remoteness by means of different digital devices. Therefore, we aim to explore the patterns of digital family correspondence under the light of placement cases and to observe the way the family links are built.

Methodology : The survey and the in-field work have been built on two complementary lines : 1/ identify the means of digital family correspondence through semi-directive interviews with 18 children aged from 14 to 18 and 6 parents, 2/ understand the logic of regulation within the strict frame of the protective measure through interviews with 75 professionals : family assistant, ASE referents, educators, ASE managers and judges specialised in children protection.

Objectives : Within the frame of placement (art. 375 of the French civil code), the child protection rules provide family links accommodations without considering socio-digital uses. The point is to observe how the family members are taking control of this under-ruled space to strengthen their relations or, on the opposite, to maintain a certain distance. From a socio-legal point of view, socio-digital uses will be put into perspective with the rights and duties of the family, from the child to his parents.

Results : Our research highlights the ways of negotiation taking place within the emotional and moral dealings with « polymedia » (Madianou, 2014), building or moving spaces of autonomy and family roles. It also reveals different kinds of relationships in the siblings and in the family, with regards to the experiences of the family members during the placement measure.

Conclusions : Without foreseeing the intensity of the established relationships socio-digital media contribute to maintaining family ties. The way of maintaining these distant relationships depend on shared experiences, placement experiments, and afferent stages. It is also the product of negotiated choices to maintain the links or, on the contrary, to loosen it.

Contribution : This paper is based on the data collected during two research programs : exploratory research supported by the GIS M@arsouin (2014-2015) and the Pl@cement research supported by the Observatoire National de la Protection de l’Enfance and by the Mission de recherche Droit et Justice (2016- 2018).


The digital information resources offered to French-speaking Belgian and Canadian parents in response to the problem of cyberbullying : a critical discourse analysis
Mathieu Bégin, Alice T’Kint, Pierre Fastrez, Normand Landry

Research Framework : The term “cyberbullying” refers to any situation where a person or group communicates content using social-digital technologies in order to harm the well-being of a third person. This research focuses on digital information resources (DIR) addressed to French-speaking parents in Belgium and Canada, in response to this social problem.

Objectives : Based on the theory of critical discourse analysis, our research aims to describe the “ways of acting” and the “ways of being” most often proposed to French-speaking parents in Belgium and Canada, then to evaluate them in terms of what scientific research judges appropriate in this area.

Methodology : An analysis of the discourse of 17 Belgian DIRs and 35 Canadian DIRs was conducted. All the propositions presenting “ways of acting” and “ways of being” in these documents have been classified in analytical categories taken from the scientific documentation.

Results : The discourse of the Belgian DIR prescribes modalities of intervention in the situation of cyberbullying which are proactive ; preventive actions focusing on the promotion of respect for others ; a media education prescribing good uses ; the exercise of a democratic parenting with an authoritarian tendency. The discourse of Canadian DIR prescribes modes of intervention in cyberbullying that focus on the well-being of the child-victim ; preventive actions aimed at understanding the socio-media universe of young people ; media education based on support and open dialogue ; the exercise of a democratic parenting with a permissive tendency.

Conclusions : The two countries are different in terms of “ways of acting” and “ways of being” promoted in the discourses of the DIR. Our observations are consistent with the findings of surveys showing that parenting in Latin Europe is conducted in a more authoritarian way than in Canada.

Contribution : Our research confirms the postulate of the critical discourse analysis theory to which discourses are oriented by common sense knowledge (beliefs, norms, values) geographically and culturally located.


Distinguished children. Clothes and social distinction within middle and upper class families.
Martine Court

Research Framework: In all strata of society, clothing is a privileged instrument of social distinction. In a way that is not necessarily conscious, it allows individuals to make an appearance that gives them – at least in their own eyes – some form of excellence, and to make a difference between them and social groups to which they do not want to be assimilated.

Objectives: The objective of this article is to analyze how this logic of distinction guides children’s clothing practices. By focusing on the case of the French middle and upper classes, we wish to show that the choices made by parents when dressing their children are the product of relational tastes and distastes, in response to the tastes of those who occupy different positions in the social space.

Methodology: The article is based on a qualitative interview survey conducted in France between 2010 and 2012 with 26 parents of ten-year-old children from the middle and upper classes.

Results: After highlighting the existence of a taste for distinction, which leads many parents to buy their children clothes that distinguish them, the text details different forms of distaste with the taste of others: an aversion to certain clothes associated with different fractions of the working classes, on the one hand; a distancing of tastes attributed to other fractions of the middle or upper classes, on the other hand.

Conclusions: These analyses indicate that children – very precisely the practices and consumption intended for them – play an important role in building barriers and symbolic hierarchies between classes.

Contribution: While consumption for children is almost never mentioned in La distinction, the article shows the relevance of the theoretical model developed by Pierre Bourdieu to account for this consumption. Beyond the case of clothing alone, it invites us to analyze other childish practices in the light of the proposals put forward in La distinction.


Gay fatherhood: between genetic and affective ties
Martine Gross, Bérengère Rubio, Olivier Vecho, Kate Ellis-Davies

Research Framework: Alongside the « classic » fathers, genetically related to their child and the mother’s spouse, there are adoptive fathers, single fathers, stepfathers, non-genetic fathers. Within this diversity appear gay fathers. But choosing gay parenthood is a relatively recent phenomenon that requires confronting a hostile legal and social environment and challenging gender norms.

Objectives: The objective of this article is to explore representations of kinship and paternity, including whether or not the genetic link is important to gay fathers who have used gestational surrogacy.

Methodology: The paper is based on interviews with 36 gay men in couple’s who have used surrogacy to become the father of a child or twins of about 4 months of age.

Results: Because they are likely aware of the importance of genetic bonds in dominant social representations of parenthood, the interviewed fathers are very careful that their own relatives make no distinction between them. Some fathers go so far as to refuse to tell others about which father is biologically related to the child. Nevertheless, these dominant representations are not absent, especially at the moment of conception. Indeed, a number of them implanted embryos of each to give themselves a chance to have twins genetically linked to each of the fathers. In the case of a second surrogacy, they often want the second child (second twin or future pregnancy) to be of the father who has not given his sperm the first time.

Conclusions: The gathered observations show that the representations of paternity are diversified and combine representations based on genetic ties with representations based more on daily parenthood.

Contribution: The article highlights the complexity of paternity representations. These are not just about biogenetic links, but also about elective links.