Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Parenting from Afar and the Reconfiguration of Family Across Distance, ed. Maria Rosario T. de Guzman, Jill Brown, and Carolyn Pope Edwards (New York: Oxford, 2018), pp. 1-12.


Copyright © 2018 Oxford University Press. Used by permission.


Anthropologists have provided a rich research literature on family life, documenting the quite extreme variations in emotional and interactional closeness of the husband-wife relationship with respect to sleeping, eating, work, and leisure. For example, John and Beatrice Whiting (l975a) studied the dimension of what they characterized as husband-wife "aloofness versus intimacy:' They and other anthropologists have correlated this dimension of husband-wife closeness with male cross-sex identity, male involvement in warfare and group defense (extensive vs. unpredictable), marriage type (monogamous vs. polygynous), household structure (nuclear vs. extended, joint, or polygynous), preferred leisure and work partners (same-gender vs. mixed gender, paternal interaction with infants and young children (extensive vs. minimal), and other facets of culture, economy, and society (e.g., Chasdi, 1994; Harkness, Mavridis, Uu, & Super, 2015; Shwalb & Shwalb, 2015; Whiting & Edwards, 1988; Whiting & Whiting, 1975b).

Yet, in all of the common household and normative arrangements, sets of parents and children nevertheless tend to live their days and nights, if not dwelling under the same roof and sharing common social space in at least part of the same homestead or compound except during times while the father was away at war or engaged in other temporary demands related to livestock or subsistence agriculture. It seems that although definitions of family constellation and household structure have been found to vary by culture, in general, parental-child units in the past were usually found to dwell in close geographic proximity to one another. This expectation included the cases of one husband with multiple wives and sets of children, commonly found, for example, in sub-Saharan Africa; in the husband-wife-children units deeply embedded in complex multigenerational joint family compounds, commonly found in India, Pakistan, and other parts of the Mideast and Southeast Asia; and in the single mother-children-but no husband or partner units that have become highly frequent in all countries with complex and stratified industrial economies in North and South America and Western Europe.

Thus, what is striking in the contemporary world is that the very expectation for geographic unity of parents and children is in the process of a profound reworking to include a greater diversity in constellations of family life that exists around the world. Increased migration and mobility, as well as societal shifts, have challenged these traditional notions, yet much of mainstream research and prevailing societal views rely on past notions of the family as a cohesive unit in one domicile or set of contiguous domiciles (de Guzman, 2014; Smith, 1993).

The present volume is dedicated to examining the various circumstances surrounding nuclear and extended family life across physical distance, how families operate and maintain ties in the context of dispersal, and how the very notion of "family" is redefined in these various settings. Research on the topic of long-distance family life has flourished in recent years as scholars from various disciplines-anthropology, sociology, migration studies, feminist studies, and psychology-have paid closer attention to the experience, causes, and consequences of separation from the individual to the societal level. This volume brings together scholars representing these various perspectives and fields of study, utilizing diverse methodologies and approaches, and examining family separation in numerous geographical locations