Face 2 Face: tracing the real and the mediated in children's cultural worlds

  • Bragg, Sara (CoI)
  • Thomson, Rachel (PI)
  • Kehily, Mary Jane (CoI)
  • Howland, Kate (CoI)

Project Details


Face 2 Face aimed to develop methodological tools for researching the temporal rhythms of children's everyday lives. Funded by the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) with £152,120, the project developed and evaluated a range of methods for exploring the movement between face-to-face and online interactions.

The project had two linked parts. The first extended family case studies developed as part of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Making Modern Motherhood research (2005–10) and followed participating children. The original research team re-visited five families and repeated methods originally piloted with adults: a 'day in a life' observation, 'favourite things' object-based interviews, and a 'recursive scrapbook'.

The second part of the research ran concurrently to establish a new panel of co-researchers aged 12–14 with whom the team developed intensive, mobile methods for exploring movement between face-to-face and online interaction.

Wherever possible, methods were shared and adapted across the two parts of the study, facilitating the scaling-up of findings over time and space.

A key objective of the project was to work collaboratively with young co-researchers and a media partner to see what kind of ethically sensitive, open-access documents of everyday childhoods-over-time can be created. Participants curated these documents for publication online generating a significant record of contemporary childhoods. In doing so, the project team contributed to the development of ethical understandings in researching children's lives, informing critical debates concerning the tensions between protection and participation in researching childhood in a digital age.

The research project objectives included to:

> make a methodological contribution to the development and mainstreaming of qualitative longitudinal research (QLR)
> experiment with available digital tracking and collating technologies to capture online activity and integrate these with more traditional ethnographic practices
> demonstrate the feasibility of co-producing ethically sensitive documents and in doing so contribute to ethical understanding of good practice in research with children and young people and the value of QLR as offering dynamic and accessible methodologies for knowledge generation.
> make an empirical contribution to knowledge on movement between the face-to-face and mediated forms of relating in children's everyday lives.

Key findings

The project team were ideally placed to undertake this research, being at the forefront of current developments in qualitative longitudinal research as well as leading researchers in the fields of childhood research and digital and media cultures. The Face 2 Face project report captures detailed methodological and substantive findings.

Methods enabled the documentation of the temporalities of everyday life, creating 'small', 'deep' and 'rich' data sets which were revealing in new ways. Groundbreaking work with children, families and researchers exploring what happens to data once it has been captured led to effective engagement in co-production of knowledge. Research also enabled learning about key methods in relation to the 'day in a life' observations, 'favourite things' object-based interviews, and the 'recursive scrapbook' approach.

Substantive findings included the importance of technological change in the formation of children’s cultures, the difficulty delineating between online and offline and the notable use of social interactions being mediated through fictional worlds.

The Face 2 Face project made an impact in several ways:

Extending methodological frontiers
Enriching possibilities within the field of qualitative longitudinal research
In the Face 2 Face project, this has been achieved through examining how intensive and extensive temporalities can be explored within a single study and contributing to theoretical development (the idea of the fourth wall in social research). These ideas have been developed and communicated through a special issue of the International Journal of Social Research Methodology on New Frontiers in QLR (March 2015) and through a number of keynote papers by Thomson during 2014–15.

Extending ethical understandings of co-production with children
An important achievement of this project, and an affordance of the longitudinal approach, has been our ability to go back to participants and share data and to involve them in creating edited case studies that can be shared publicly. Our use of the recursive interview and the creation of the ‘Everyday Childhoods’ collection at the Mass Observation archive contribute to a rebalancing of the imperatives of protection and participation in research with children and in particular open up the potential for co-production in the analysis, presentation and archiving stages of social research in ways that produce new ethical and methodological insight.

Innovation in the creative use of digital methods
The Face 2 Face project has also pioneered innovation in the use of digital methods in qualitative research. This includes: a new focus on the collection of soundscapes as a rich source of qualitative and contextual data; new ways of showing and sharing multi-media data using freely available digital software (eg. Prezi); the development and popularising of ‘a day in a life’ and ‘favourite things’ as flexible and generative documentary methods.

Methodological knowledge transfer
The Face 2 Face project has worked closely with media professionals (Arnott & Hughes) seeking to understand more about documentary traditions in film-making and photography and to explore ways in which these might enrich an emergent digital research practice. This has been a fruitful collaboration with learning and innovation on both sides. Together we have succeeded in using professional technologies in new ways (for example the interactive landscape technologies used in the favourite things displays) as well as stretching the potential of non-professional applications such as Prezi to deliver media assets of quality. The research team learned a great deal about sound recording technique as well as principles of visual composition from the professionals, who in turn learned much about a DIY aesthetic and the potential of digital documentary from the researchers and the young participants.

New perspectives on digital childhood
A focus on methodology enabled us to gain fresh perspectives on digital childhoods and as such to make a valuable contribution to substantive literatures. This includes:

The moral landscape of digital childhood
Our interest in the ethics of following and documenting the online and offline activities of our sample provided helped us focus on the importance of practices of data sharing and the significance of participation and visibility as competing imperatives of a new moral landscape of digital youth. Pilot work gave rise to a very well-received conceptual paper (Berriman & Thomson 2015) proposing a new conceptual model.

Sonic socialities
Our interest in sound attuned us to the sonic landscapes of contemporary childhoods and the ways in which young people take control of sound, screening personal and communications as a strategy for sculpting domestic and public space. The 'day in a life' method captured sensual data on the dramatically changing soundscapes of everyday life, the ways in which the control of sound is a key element of teaching and behavioural policy and how movement between spaces have a distinctly sonic dimension. Exploring how young people use headphones in everyday life was also revealing and demonstrates a complex choreography of sonic screening actively used by those with little control over space and privacy. This is an area that the team plans to explore in future writing and research.

Childhood publics
Building on conceptual work by Nolas (2015) our research has provided vital empirical evidence for the growing tensions that exist between institutionally based top-down strategies of children’s participation and the kind of ephemeral and agentic childhood publics associated with social media use. A focus on publics draws attention towards questions of audience and value in a way the has the potential to reinvigorate debates about children’s participation in a digital age. The Face 2 Face project has informed the development of a number of linked research endeavours that seek to elaborate the theory and practice of children’s publics such as Nolas’s ERC Starter Grant ‘Connectors’ as well as Bragg’s work within education that seeks to rethink e-safety in a child-centred way.

Outputs from the project
Everyday Childhoods at the Mass Observation Archive. The data set from the Face 2 Face study is the cornerstone of a new collection at the Mass Observation Archive, which will also include new and existing material generated by children as part of the May 12th Mass Observation and responses to directives. This includes an online open access multi-media case studies and ‘raw data’.
Everyday childhoods blog

A two-day NCRM advanced methods training session on 22 and 23 June 2015 entitled ‘Capturing everyday temporalities using qualitative longitudinal research’ by University of Sussex (Thomson, Berriman and Courage with keynote from Julie McLeod)
Journal articles (University of Brighton authors only)
Bragg, S. and Buckingham, D., 1 Jan 2014, Elusive youth: Youth cultures in the age of global media. Buckingham, D., Bragg, S. & Kehily, M. J. (eds.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Thomson, R., Berriman, L. and Bragg, S., Researching Everyday Childhoods: time, technology and documentation in a digital age, 25 Jan 2018, London: Bloomsbury.

Effective start/end date1/09/1330/09/14


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