In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographies of the Family

  • Introduction
  • (Re)Conceptualizing Family: Key Texts
  • Geographies of Relatedness: Genes, Genealogy, Heritage, Inheritance
  • The Geopolitics of Family, Nation, and State
  • (Un)Doing Family: Geographies of Household and Kinship Form, Formation, and Breakup
  • Geographies of Childhood and Children’s Families
  • Geographies of Childrearing and Parenting
  • Population
  • Migration and Mobility
  • Economy: Production, Reproduction, Care, and Work
  • Home, Domesticity, and Public/Private Life
  • Housing, Design, and Residential Location
  • Household Consumption
  • Everyday and Emotional Geographies of Family
  • Geographies of Violence and Peace
  • The Normative Family and Its Others: Non-, Alter-, and Anti-Families

Geography Geographies of the Family
Will McKeithen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0243


Family has been both ubiquitous and invisible in academic geography. Most human social groups practice some form of kinship. Much of human life is experienced within and through family groups. It is therefore hard to find geographic scholarship that does not involve or affect families. Yet, family itself—as both concept and empirical reality—has not been explicitly theorized or studied until relatively recently in the discipline, largely thanks to the work of feminist geographers. Geographies of family investigate the social and spatial dynamics of kinship, intimacy, and household life. Early scholarship sought to map family through, for example, the geographic distribution of different family forms. As poststructuralist feminist theories of performativity, intersectionality, and political economy have gained greater influence within the discipline, however, geographers have approached family as a contested and contingent process. Discourses and practices of kinship are neither universal nor uncontested but rather highly contextual and variable across space and time. In a similar vein, geographers of family have sought to trouble not only the ontology of family but also its site and scale. While home and domestic spaces continue to be vitally important for understanding family life, feminists have challenged masculinist constructions of space and scale that relegate the study of family to the personal and the local. As feminist geographers of domestic and state violence have made especially clear, the forces shaping both positive and negative experiences of family unfold across all sites and scales. Finally, this attention to violence has raised for geographers intimately connected questions of justice. Normative and powerful ideals about what a family is or what families should do (particularly in relation to states, markets, and communities) remain consequential across Majority and Minority worlds. Geographers of family play an essential role in challenging the conceptual and practical infrastructures that shorten the lives and life chances of some families while enabling intimacy, love, and material well-being for others.

(Re)Conceptualizing Family: Key Texts

The citations in this section offer points of departure for geographers interested in understanding family as a social and spatial phenomenon and process. Valentine 2008 is often cited as a field-defining work in geographies of family, identifying its relative absence from feminist geography. Bailey 2009 argues for the importance of family relations for understanding population geography. Meanwhile, Martin 2014 calls for re-politicizing family as not just an understudied realm of social life but as a key concept for geographic inquiry. Geographies of family draw heavily on work in other fields, including: the genealogy of sexuality, intimacy, kinship by Foucault 1990; New Kinship Studies in anthropology, such as Franklin and McKinnon 2002; and feminist political economic studies of family like Cooper 2019. Geographers have added to this work, bringing nuance to our understanding of what families are and where and how family happens. Price-Robertson and Duff 2019, drawing on assemblage theory, and Tarrant and Hall 2020, drawing on feminist approaches to the everyday, both introduce their own journal special issues. Each represents a renewed fervor for geographies of family. Finally, Evans 2020 interrogates the unequal geography of knowledge production itself when it comes to studying family life.

  • Bailey, A. J. “Population Geography: Lifecourse Matters.” Progress in Human Geography 33.3 (2009): 407–418.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132508096355

    Argues for the importance of understanding how sociospatial processes are shaped by and unfold along a human lifecourse. Though not singularly focused on questions of family, Bailey points to the way family formation events (e.g., co-residence) are sequenced as well as the way other lifecourse events (e.g., migration) often occur (at least partially) within a familial context. Highlights the value of a lifecourse approach for understanding the interdependencies between space and social (re)production.

  • Cooper, M. Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism. New York: Zone Books, 2019.

    While not explicitly geographic in approach, a key work in the post-Marxist study of ‘family,’ its role in reinscribing cultural logics of capital accumulation (e.g., family inheritance), and the state. Traces the ways in which neoliberal austerity (particularly in the United States) reprivatizes social reproduction within the nuclear family and the private household.

  • Evans, R. “Interpreting Family Struggles in West Africa across Majority-Minority World Boundaries: Tensions and Possibilities.” Gender, Place & Culture 27.5 (2020): 717–732.

    DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2018.1553861

    Based on the author’s experience collaborating with Ghanaian academics on research with Senegalese families, explores the intellectual and emotional labor required to work across disciplinary, linguistic, and Majority-Minority world boundaries. Highlights the persistent inequalities of social science knowledge production wherein most research on family life comes from Minority world contexts; and discusses what it might mean to theorize the global diversity (and commonality) of ‘family’ from the Majority world.

  • Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Press, 1990.

    A foundational text in the study of intimate life, introducing many concepts that would become key for geographers of the family: power-knowledge, discipline, biopolitics, discourse, ab/normality, bodies, liberalism, governance, and governmentality. Solidifies sexuality, intimacy, and the family in particular as non-innocent social institutions and sites of subject-formation.

  • Franklin, Sarah, and Susan McKinnon, eds. Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

    A collection of interdisciplinary essays with international scope that surveys the history of kinship theory and its possible futures. Part of the New Kinship Studies driven by feminist anthropologists drawing on science studies, critical race theory, and other post-structuralisms and centering issues of ‘new’ reproductive technology, biocapitalism, and globalization.

  • Martin, L. “Accounting for the Familial: Discourse, Practice and Political Possibility.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 13.3 (2014): 457–462.

    Calls for re-politicizing the family (and kinship and relatedness more broadly) as a key concept for geographic inquiry, as an overlooked social practice, and as a tool of sovereign, disciplinary, and biopolitical governance.

  • Nash, C. “Geographies of Relatedness.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30.4 (2005): 449–462.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2005.00178.x

    Explores biological relatedness, genealogy, and the family as powerful social and spatial orders. Highlights in particular how kinship is variably fixed or made flexible in order to facilitate inclusion/exclusion, particularly in the case of defining, territorializing, and bordering the racialized national body (e.g., the Nazi racist slogan ‘blood and soil’).

  • Price-Robertson, R., and C. Duff. “Family Assemblages.” Social & Cultural Geography 20.8 (2019): 1031–1049.

    DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2017.1420212

    Applies assemblage theory to account for the more-than-human dynamics of family life, tracking the interactions by which human and nonhuman ‘actants’ (e.g., materialities, animals, policies) co-create emergent properties (e.g., care, mobility, home, health). Demonstrates this approach through a case study of fathers’ mental health in Melbourne, Australia.

  • Tarrant, A., and S. M. Hall. “Everyday Geographies of Family: Feminist Approaches and Interdisciplinary Conversations.” Gender, Place & Culture 27.5 (2020): 613–623.

    DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2019.1609430

    Discusses the value of ‘the everyday’ as a key theoretical concept and methodology in the study of family. Introduces a collection of essays by geographers and sociologists, including work on Slovenian fatherhood and citizenship, cross-border families in Hong Kong, family teleconferencing on Skype, and Evan’s (2020) Sdiscussion of theorizing family from the Minority world.

  • Valentine, G. “The Ties That Bind: Towards Geographies of Intimacy.” Geography Compass 2.6 (2008): 2097–2110.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2008.00158.x

    Surveys the rise in feminist geographies of sexuality, care, gendered divisions of labor, children, and mothering that took place over the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Noting the crucial conceptual distinction between households as units of production (e.g., women’s unpaid domestic work) and families as forms of affective intimacy and kinship, Valentine argues that families have become an “absent presence” in geography and calls for further study.

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