Who do you think you are: family albums

1 April 2010

Big sister or little brother - everybody knows that sibling relationships change over time and are full of emotion. An exciting, new interactive exhibition is opening which explores the complex relationships of brothers and sisters. Family Albums will run over the weekend of April 4-5 with a series of activities including dramas and storytelling workshops aimed at children and families.

Researchers from the ESRC Timescapes project have teamed up with the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood to create this unique experience. As Professor Rosalind Edwards, London South Bank University, explains, "these unrecognised, hidden relationships play a key part of everyone's lives and they need to be celebrated."

Findings from their recent 'Brothers and Sisters' research - a UK-wide exploration of sibling relationships - shows that this is a subject that gets everyone talking, from 4 year olds to 90 year olds. Based on the writings from a postcard survey it has emerged that sibling relationships are not as simple as most of us would imagine them to be. It appears that who we value as our siblings depends not just on the immediate family but also on our generation, emotional attachment and shared experiences.

It was no surprise to the 'Brothers and Sisters' project that respondents under 19 years focused on their immediate feelings, often complaining their siblings were annoying but admitting they do love each other deep down. What became clear was that different generations had distinct trends on what they chose to recall. Professor Edwards and her colleagues realised that people aged 20-39 tended to focus on their employment and family status. She believes "this might represent how young adults are pre-occupied with domestic circumstances since most have just moved out after two decades of living at home."

The research also showed that participants aged 40-59 often reflected on the support they shared between siblings and changes in their relationships, while those over 60 focused on the lives of each other or reconciliations from arguments over the years. What the researchers didn't expect to find was that people with no brothers or sisters listed their friends and other relatives as their siblings instead. Professor Edwards believes that their work proves that "research into these complex relationships is key to understanding our social networks."

The Family Albums weekend event is a celebration of the place of siblings in our lives. The exhibition runs from April 4 - 5, 2009. Visitors of all ages are welcome to participate in the sibling-themed family tree artwork, storytelling workshops and an interactive exhibition where everyone is invited to share their own sibling memories.

For further information contact

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Notes for editors

  1. This release is based on a Timescapes 'Brothers and Sisters' project which was sponsored by ESRC Festival of Social Science in 2008. The project was conducted by Professor Rosalind Edwards, Dr Susie Weller and Dr Chamion Caballero at London South Bank University and Dr Bill Bytheway and Professor Joanna Bornat at the Open University.
  2. Timescapes is an ESRC funded Qualitative Longitudinal Study based at Leeds University and is the first major qualitative longitudinal study to be funded in the UK. The study has received funding for 5 years from February 2007 - 2012 The researchers are exploring how personal and family relationships develop and change over time. Their focus is on relationships with significant others: parents, grandparents, siblings, children, partners, friends and lovers. In depth interviews, oral narratives, photographs and other visual documents are being collected for the Timescapes archive which current and future generations of researchers will be able to reuse as a resource. The archive offers exciting possibilities for re-searching data through time and across the generations.
  3. The Family Albums exhibition will be held at the V&A Museum of Childhood from 4 - 5 April, 2009. The weekend will consist of family events looking at how siblings shape our lives. Over the weekend, parents and children will be invited to contribute to a collaborative piece of sibling-themed artwork as well as explore how some of the Museum's objects can inspire very personal memories of childhood.
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £123 million every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow.