IV Moving forward

Critical reflections and the ways forward for family-centred social justice and equity research

Ruth Jeanes and Dawn E. Trussell


As noted in the Introduction chapter, we have drawn together this edited collection amidst the most significant changes in global circumstances witnessed in our lifetime. When we first conceptualised the idea for this book, several years ago, we were both taking parental leave after the birth of our second children and trying to balance the demands of family, maintaining our professional identities and retain some semblance of sanity', a challenge well documented within the feminist family leisure literature (Paterson, Trussell, Hebblethwaite, Evans, &Xing, 2016; Trussell, 2015). We could not have predicted that on concluding the project, we would be in the midst of a global pandemic, and again engaged in an intense balancing act across family, work, and leisure. We write the concluding chapter whilst attempting to support our young children with remote learning, in the wake of school closures, and continue to maintain some semblance of “normal” academic activity' whilst rapidly' converting our teaching online and dealing with the ramifications of mass reductions in student numbers.

Although pandemics and social protests are not new phenomena, COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter have highlighted more than ever the necessity for critical, socially just analyses of family and the interrelationships between work, leisure, sport, and family life. The current situation has exposed pronounced inequities of access and power, and as we will argue, have heightened injustices related to gender, race, income, and culture (Mowatt, 2020).

In this final chapter therefore, we discuss current global circumstances including the COVID-19 pandemic and the growth of the Black Lives Matter social protest movement in the midst of 2020. Next, we consider in the context of a highly turbulent, politically' charged contemporary' society', what contribution ongoing family leisure and sport research can make to improving societies and family lives. Finally, we close this volume through a politics of hope for future family, sport, leisure scholarship that is underpinned by' a social justice lens.

Family and the inequities of COVID-19

As COVID-19 has taken a grip globally and countries have moved in and out of various stages of lockdown and restrictions, we have witnessed more than ever before the blending of multiple life dimensions, including the blurring of boundaries between work, family life, social interactions, and education. Fullagar and Pavlidis (2020) suggest that during the pandemic, “Arbitrary divisions between private and public, home and work, digital and physical, human and nonhuman, self and other, are collapsing and reconfiguring leisure in lockdown through a radically different timespacemattering” (p. 2). Our physical and geographical spaces have become constrained in many cases to the immediate locale as families attempt to undertake all aspects of their lives within the physical confines of their own home. Many families have experienced an expansion of their virtual worlds as we use technology to connect with family and friends not residing with us, for education purposes, for work, and for sport and leisure. Many of the issues raised by Sharaievska (Chapter 14) come to the forefront here, in considering who has access to digital resources that have been essential in enabling access to ongoing education, remaining socially connected, and continuing some leisure and physical activity pursuits. Within Global North societies, family leisure has potentially become more sedentary with subscriptions to streaming services such as Netflix soaring (Roberts, 2020), but there is also signs that families are engaging in online-mediated physical activities. The huge popularity amongst families of daily physical activity sessions led by personal trainer Joe Wicks in the UK provides one example of this phenomenon (Steven, 2020).

In relation to this book’s core theme of social justice, the pandemic has highlighted once more the significant inequities that exist within societies resulting in uneven impact on families and considerable disadvantage for different configurations of families. As Roberts (2020) highlights:

Covid-19 itself, and then lockdown, definitely exposed existing social divisions. The socio-economic groups that suffered the most financially were in the middle. The top fifth was the most likely to retain their jobs and to be able to work from home. The bottom fifth in terms of income were already relying on state pensions or Universal Credit, so could suffer little further damage. Those in the middle were the most vulnerable, and among them single parents, the least educated, and Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups.

(P- 7)

Roberts (2020) raises an important point about the impact for those “in the middle”. For some groups living at extremes of marginalisation, the pandemic has provided greater access to resources and support. For example, in attempts to prevent COVID-19 spreading through highly vulnerable homeless communities, who were unable to “just stay home”, governments had put in place measures that have seen individuals living on the streets provided with accommodation in hotels and access to regular meals, providing greater levels of stability than they were available pre-pandemic. For these individuals, the “end” of the pandemic is not an appealing prospect as it will mean additional social security measures are removed

(Knight, 2020). The impact, as Roberts suggests, has been uneven across different groups within society.

The gendered impact has been a noticeable one and, as already mentioned, disproportionately affected women with children. Women have borne the brunt of childcare facilities closing, the option to rely on family members and friends to share caring responsibilities significantly reduced, and the closure of schools resulting in parents and carers not only having to work around children at home but also take responsibility for their education. As Fullagar and Pavlidis (2020) outline, “home is profoundly entangled with leisure-work-care assemblages that reconfigure choices and gendered relations that press upon us in ways that intensify or relieve anxieties” (p. 5). For many women, the pandemic and blurring of home, work, and leisure lives have considerably intensified anxieties. International reports have indicated that women, who are more frequently employed part-time, casually and in less secure positions are experiencing higher level of job loss during the pandemic (United Nations, 2020) There have been reports of increased gender-based and family violence globally across lockdown periods, largely perpetrated by men. As Mowatt (2020) documents, within the UK, “at least 16 incidents (the killing of women by men including children) occurred just over a three-week period” (p. 2) during initial lockdown. Recent reports in Australia suggest rises in the number of first-time reporters of domestic abuse as well as women reporting increases in the severity of abuse (Pfitzner, Fitzgibbon, & True, 2020).

Low-income families have also faced considerable challenges, with many low-income workers in unstable employment that has been suspended because of the pandemic with very little social security support available. Whilst the mantra of the pandemic has been one of “we are all in this together”, this does not adequately capture the pronounced inequities and levels of impact across different types of families.

For many families, sport and leisure has been confined to activities either within the home or within the immediate area. Whilst “exercise” has been one of the sanc tioned reasons to leave the house within the response policies of most Global North countries, this has to occur locally adding further dimensions of inequity. Where families have access to secure, inviting local environments within which to be active, there has been reports of significantly greater levels of family activity, including rises in families walking and cycling in local communities and generally engaging far more in their local spaces together (Mackenzie & Goodnow, 2020). For families where local space that can facilitate physical activity' is limited (e.g., no local parks, no backyard), or where there are concerns regarding safety, as is often the case in low-income neighbourhoods (Aliyas, 2019), opportunities to engage in active leisure opportunities have been severely constrained.

Within the midst of the pandemic, we have also witnessed the mobilisation of a significant social protest movement with the Black Lives Matter campaign. The speed with which the protest has gained traction and support globally is indicative of the ongoing, deep, and systemic racism that exists, and the acknowledgement that far more needs to be done to address this across all spaces within society, including sport and leisure settings. The movement has prompted action within sport and leisure spaces, through mass protests families have engaged in social activism and major sports events have been used as a site to forefront debate and discussion about racism in sport and provide visual support for the campaign?

The inequities exposed by COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter social protests are by no means new, but we would argue they have been highlighted and brought to the forefront of public consciousness in ways that have not occurred previously due to the cataclysmic shifts that have occurred within society over the last six months. Upon reflection, the critical theoretical approaches utilised by the authors in the book have been crucial in illuminating ongoing inequities that impact families, and in understanding how families’ engagement in sport and leisure are impacted by broader structures within society. Yet, we suggest there are still areas of ongoing concern with which future research could valuably engage, and we provide an overview of these with suggestions for possible future directions. Whilst there have been calls amongst the COVID-19 pandemic to “rethink everything” (Lashua, Johnson, & Parry, 2020), we would argue that existing areas of inquiry are important to continue pursuing because their relevance has been made all the more obvious.

Social justice, social change, and families

The volume has highlighted the important role that families have in catalysing social justice work and challenging and contesting inequitable structures. Whilst there has been some exploration of this within sport and leisure contexts, as inclusion and diversity policies within sport and leisure context continue to be largely ineffective, researchers could productively pay greater attention to the ways in which families themselves navigate and contest exclusion within their lives. Utilising strengths-based perspectives, it would be informative to understand how families navigate inequities and draw on particular resources to begin lobbying for change within sport and leisure provision. The concept of families as agents of social change, presented by Trussell (2018), is a productive one and requires greater attention in future research to fully understand how sport and leisure provision can be reshaped and developed to better engage with and support a diverse array of families. Understanding how families have navigated inequities and created change within sport and leisure contexts offers an important opportunity for scholars to not only highlight inequity, but also contribute to dialogue regarding solutions and change, a central component of research informed by social justice frameworks. A key question within this research focus is how do we empower families more effectively to be able to advocate for social change within sport and leisure contexts’ Learning from the experiences of those families engaged in activist work in their everyday spaces is critical in answering this question.

Critiquing sport, leisure, and social policy

Related to the first area of research, there is an ongoing need for examination and critique of policies seeking to drive sport and health agendas that continue to ignore the centrality of families in achieving their agendas. From policies seeking to support elite sport development through to public health policies intended to raise population physical activity levels, families have a crucial role to play in their enactment, but continue to be ignored or blamed as the cause of social problems within policies. For example, rising level of child obesity is positioned as the result of lack of knowledge of primary caregivers, laziness, and an unwillingness by families to engage in healthy eating and physical activity habits (Attree, 2006). Policies focus on simplistic interventions encouraging families to move more, education to increase knowledge of healthy foods etc., without considering the broader structural challenges families face in engaging in “healthy” habits. This volume and limited previous research (Fullagar & Harrington, 2009; Fullagar, 2009) have illustrated that to address inequities in sport, leisure, and physical activity engagement, policies need to engage with the complexities of families and develop robust approaches that actively support rather than demonise families as the problem. Connecting back to the previous section, such research needs to focus on the experiences of diverse and marginalised families, highlight their needs and solutions to address inequity, and use this information to begin a process of co-design with policymakers (Mulvale et al., 2019). The invisibility or negative representation of families within sport- and leisure-focused policies at global, national, and local levels remains concerning and illustrates the ongoing lack of understanding surrounding the importance of family by policymakers.

Continued engagement with family diversity and indigenous perspectives

Whilst this volume makes a significant contribution to extending research that examines the experiences of diverse families, we are mindful that this needs to continue. The concept of intersectionality has not been considered extensively within existing family, sport, and leisure research and this is important to drive forward social justice analyses. Understanding how multiple axis intersect and are experienced within families and how this impacts on family engagement and relationships with sport and leisure needs to be a priority in developing deep understandings of inequity and exclusion. Intersectional frameworks provide an important lens to explore issues of social justice, but there continues to be a lack of family-oriented research that explores more than one demographic influence. Intersectional analyses provide an important avenue for future research enabling more detailed analysis of how ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, and disability influence experiences.

Similarly, we acknowledge that within this volume, we have been unable to highlight research that draws on indigenous knowledge and perspectives to explore social justice issues within a family, sport, and leisure context. As we have written elsewhere, “attention to indigenous families remains largely unexplored, and it is critical that future research seeks to understand the context of their leisure experiences and potential insights for social policy development and implementation” (Trussell, Jeanes, & Such, 2017, p. 394). In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Report has raised attention to the violence and suffering among indigenous families and communities; and as such, this was an important context for us to include in the collection. However, we were unsuccessful in our attempt to secure a chapter focused on indigenous families, and in doing so, illustrate how research not only reflects social life but also constitutes social life. In one instance, the timelines of the book were in conflict with indigenous ways of knowing that have different temporal contexts, and the white scholar did not feel comfortable publishing without her indigenous research partners. In the other instance, an indigenous scholar was feeling overwhelmed with demands on his time, which is a phenomenon that we have witnessed is becoming all too familiar in higher education settings.

We are hopeful though, that by including this account, we can continue the dialogue and prompt the inclusion of indigenous perspectives in future family scholarship. Such research is important in engaging with different conceptualisations of families, the roles of families, sport and leisure in maintaining cultural heritage and offering a space for connection to land, identity, and negotiation of the devastating impacts of colonisation. This research agenda needs to be undertaken sensitively and ethically, ideally driven by indigenous scholars, but at the very least in partnership with First People’s. We echo Grimwood’s (2020) sentiments that there

must certainly be a relational engagement, embedded in reciprocity and respectful dialogue with Indigenous colleagues, collaborators, and communities. Learning from is not about Settlers representing or mimicking Indigenous cosmologies, knowledges, or systems. It is instead about listening for stories, for ways of being and relating, that differ from dominant colonial ones, and figuring out how these might help us further unsettle what we know.

(P- 5)

Such research has a vital place within the social justice agenda for which we advocate.

Families as educators through sport and leisure

The family as an educative site has been explored within existing research, particularly in examining the ways in which families shape the tastes and interests of young people (Quannby & Dagkas, 2010; Shannon & Shaw, 2008) and teach valuable motor skills that enable engagement in various sport and leisure pursuits. We would suggest there is avenue for further exploration of how families may use sport and leisure contexts to provide educative experience for children around broader social issues. Leisure spaces are important sites where families can engage in education regarding significant global issues such as climate change and sustainability. For example, the increasing activism occurring amongst surfing communities has been central in highlighting the ongoing impacts of ocean pollution, plastic waste, and the negative impact on marine biology. The result has been surfing as a leisure activity providing a space for significant, authentic education (Wheaton, 2020). Similarly, sport is not only a site where young people can develop individualised skills such as leadership, negotiation, and teamwork, but can also be a setting where inequities and broader social issues are considered. Recent research examining community sport in Australia points to youth sport as offering a setting where families and coaches can engage young people in conversations about racism, sexism, and homophobia that can begin to challenge the exclusionary capacity of sport (Farquharson et al., 2019). The potential for sport and leisure to act as a pedagogical space for families, that engages young people in particular with significant global issues, merits further attention, particularly within a Global North society, where a neoliberal framework that is increasingly failing to engage in social justice agendas underpins formal education.

The reimagined family, sport, and leisure

It is predicted that recovery from the impacts on COVID-19 will lead to dramatic shifts in the ways in which our lives are configured, particularly within Global North societies. For those able, working from home patterns may continue, global travel will remain highly constrained, and the economic impact will continue to resonate with high levels of unemployment and uncertain prospects for young people transitioning from education into the workforce. These broader social shifts will be important to capture within family, sport, and leisure research with potentially a return to some of the themes of previous research but re-engaging with them in this very different societal context. The well-worn debates surrounding work and leisure, the relationship between the two, and gendered patterns of leisure have increasing significance in a society where work now occurs within our family and leisure spaces and will potentially continue to do so. Understanding how families navigate this reconfiguration of their lives, negotiate time together and individually will be important in examining ongoing family functioning and resilience. Reports are already pointing towards increases in mental health issues, exacerbated by lockdown, uncertainty, and the negative impacts of COVID-19 for both adults and young people (Fisher et al., 2020; Lee, 2020). Sport and leisure have long been identified as potentially offering restorative places, supporting mental health, and recovery from mental illness (Fullagar, 2008; Magee, Spaaij, & Jeanes, 2015). Now it seems an important time to examine how sport and leisure can assist families with negotiating the mental health deficits created and exacerbated through the pandemic.

Final comments through a politics of hope

Scholarship drawing on a critical social justice lens examining families, sport, and leisure is more relevant and important than ever. As social justice research has grown significantly in other disciplines, and over the last decade within sport and leisure studies, we argue that the development of a new research agenda in family-centred scholarship with social justice and equity underpinnings is essential. In an earlier review of 20 years of family leisure scholarship, we called for understanding diverse social perspectives and the multiple family forms that coexist in relation to broader social issues that frame everyday aspects of family life (Trussell et al., 2017). With a politics of hope for personal and collective transformation, we concluded:

Given the recent dramatic shifts in governance and divisive politics and considerable dialogue and debate around issues pertaining to human rights, inclusion, and social justice that have infused fear, anger, change, and protest, there is no better time to try to understand the impacts of these broader social issues on family life as well as to consider how they might be addressed.

(Trussell et al., 2017, p. 12)

Clearly, it is important to understand diverse social perspectives, the multiple family forms that coexist, and the broader social issues that frame families’ lives for a more inclusive and diverse conceptualisation of family and their leisure and sport experiences. If family-centred research is to not only remain socially relevant, but also facilitate social change and enhance the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities, then there is much work to be done. As Freysinger (1997) pointed out, “how we think about and what we know about leisure and families” is historically situated in select cultural contexts and “our definitions or conceptualizations of family and leisure are constantly being reconstructed” (p. 3). We consider this volume has made important inroads into considering families, social issues, and leisure and sport experiences and extended the dialogue, but we maintain the importance of ongoing research particularly within the current economic, social, and political climate.

As advocated in the Introduction chapter, these inroads need to be driven by an interdisciplinary theoretical approach to social justice to produce research that explores family, sport, and leisure engagement and highlights ongoing inequities, but also considers and puts forward an agenda for change and considers the role of families themselves in change processes. This volume has demonstrated the strength and breadth of existing family, sport, and leisure scholarship underpinned by a social justice lens. Through the perspectives presented across the book, we have broadened the exploration of the relationships between family, sport, leisure, and social life to include narratives from the Global South, diverse cultural perspectives, intergenerational issues, non-traditional family configurations, as well as critiquing family-oriented social policies. These are all areas that we have been advocating need attention for some time within family-oriented scholarship within sport and leisure (Trussell et al., 2017). We consider the collection of research presented in this volume provided significant advancement in understanding the experiences of diverse families, in revisiting and rethinking previous feminist research examining families and leisure, and illustrated the importance of diverse theoretical and methodological approaches when researching families.

We hope the volume provides a springboard to continue to undertake social justice-oriented family research, and in particular it has advanced theoretical considerations of how we might conceptualise social justice in this context and how such theories can be applied to illuminate new dimensions in understanding the relationships between families, sport, and leisure. The ongoing challenge for social justice researchers, as we discussed in the Introduction chapter, is developing research that not only highlights inequity' but also offers insights into how to begin to address this and can be taken up by activists, practitioners, and policymakers to begin to influence change.


  • 1 We would like to thank Charlene Shannon for her invaluable feedback on an earlier draft of this chapter.
  • 2 For example, Ebony Rainford Brent and Michael Holding’s powerful discussion of their experiences of racism in cricket and in society aired by' Sky' Sports during the 2020 England versus West Indies test cricket series.


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