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Ethnography: Families

Ethnography offers a unique way of investigating social worlds and utilises multiple methods to understand the complex patterns of relations, interventions, structures and other factors that shape people’s lives and the object of interest – in this case, the governing of parental opioid use.

Our ethnographic approach draws on Matthew Desmond’s ‘relational ethnography’, which adopts as its basic object of inquiry, not groups of people or places, but ‘processes involving configurations of relations among different actors or institutions within a field’. The relational ethnographer explores the production of knowledge and action through relational processes and mechanisms, for instance, by tracing the networks and trajectories of different actors (e.g. practitioners and parents) to increase understanding of the social production of certain ways of thinking, behaving and responding (e.g. within the context of ‘drug treatment’ and ‘child protection’).

We will study the way parents who use opioids are governed by observing relations between parents, family members, health and social care professionals and other actors/institutions in the field (e.g. housing, education, welfare agencies). This involves exploring the day-to-day lives of families and practitioners, their relational processes, social context and trajectories over time.

Study participants

We will recruit 30 parents and their families into the study (15 per site), ideally working with each family for a period of between 12-21 months to allow for a lengthy period of time to map life events and trajectories, conduct interviews with family members, investigate relations with services, and generate detailed family case studies.

Families may include mothers, fathers, their children, and wider family members involved in the care of either the parents or children (e.g. kinship carers, siblings). Together these families will constitute our study population for the ethnographic fieldwork (including participant observation and qualitative interviews).