Morena Tartari

Change in the family field. Reading disruption and its effects through Bourdieu

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The work of Bourdieu allows conceiving the family as a field characterized by both reproduction and change. However, Bourdieu’s concept of family field has received limited attention, and his theory’s potential to explain change within the family has been underinvestigated, so a certain degree of conceptual murkiness is still present. By accepting Atkinson’s invitation to use empirical contributions to help theoretically refine the idea of the family field, this article describes how social change happens in that field as consequence of separation/divorce. The results of a transnational study on mothers’ experiences with the judicial system during their transitions from double to single parenthood due to separation allow outlining the conflicts within the field, the adaptations of agents to these changes, the elements that persist after disruption and crisis, the costs they entail for mothers, the involvement of other fields, and how – and to what extent – transformative actions within the field are possible. By analyzing three emblematic cases in dialogue with the literature, this paper illustrates intra-field and inter-field mechanisms of change emerging from crisis which have not been sufficiently illuminated in prior work, sketches three main mechanisms of change, and refines the lexicon concerning the definition and transformation of the family field


  • Bourdieu
  • family
  • field
  • social change
  • gender relations


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