The Discursive Families Network was established to look at the visual and textual representation of the ‘family’ in two popular magazines over a sixty year period from 1950-2010.

Funded through the Leverhulme Trust’s International Network Grants Scheme the project is a collaboration between The University of Edinburgh (David Marshall), University of Lancaster (>Margaret Hogg), University of Oxford (Tanja Schneider), University of Sydney (Teresa Davis) and University of Monash (Alan Petersen).

The project brought together a number of international researchers to collect, code and analyse historical archival data from the UK Good Housekeeping and the Australian Women’s weekly magazines. Material from the research was used to build a database drawing on magazine editorials, articles and advertising material referencing the ‘family’, and allowed the research team to look at changes over time in the discourse around the family across the two cultures.

The data collection involved visits to the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Australia TROVE digitised collection and the State Library (NSW) hard copy collection to examine all the issues in the first year from 1950 through to 2010 in ten year cycles. Visual discourse analysis was then used to look at the ways in which words and pictures in these magazines were used to represent and construct the family in two social and cultural contexts over time.

What we find is a somewhat ‘traditional’ representation of the family in the early advertising but a recognition of the increasing diversity and changing nature of the ‘family’ in magazine articles, something seen in more recent commercial messages. Underlying themes of motherhood are prominent in the discourse around the family.

The collaboration has been a huge success in cementing existing links between researchers at the universities of Sydney, Oxford and Lancaster; and creating new links between Monash University and the School as new partners in this relationship. Without funding from the Leverhulme Trust this work would not have happened.

The perspective of different disciplines has been invaluable with individual team members drawing on their own research and experience in their respective fields, linking for example work within Sociology on communities of practice and ‘doing’ family, with work in Marketing on visual discourse analysis and marketing images. A cross disciplinary perspective has generated useful discussion on the data collection and analysis and opened up opportunities for dissemination across a number of disciplinary communities.

A dissemination event held in Edinburgh last year, brought together over thirty five researchers, including the project team, from across a range of research disciplines including sociology, marketing and consumer behaviour, geography, health policy, education, history, and has expanded the network beyond the research group.

More information about this project and the findings can be found on the Discursive Families Network website.