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Dr Jane McCarthy

Profile summary

  • Visiting Informal Academic
  • Visiting Fellow
  • Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
  • School of Hist, Rel St, Soc, SP&C
  • Social Policy & Criminology
  • jane.mccarthy

Professional biography


I have a BA Hons in Sociology (First Class) from the University of Reading, an MSc in Advanced Social and Educational Research Methods from The Open University, and a PhD in Sociology from South Bank Polytechnic/CNAA, entitled, Accounting for Our Children: Differing Perspectives on 'Family' Life in Middle Income Households. I also have a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, London University, double distinctions.

Besides my position at the Open University, I am also a Visiting Professor at the University of Reading, and have recently completed a two year term as an Honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education.

Professional affiliations

British Sociological Association; International Sociological Association; Childhood Bereavement Network; Women’s Workshop for Qualitative Family/Household Research.

Current professional roles include:

  • trustee for the British Sociological Association;
  • trustee for Winston’s Wish, the Childhood Bereavement charity;
  • member of the editorial board of Bereavement Care; and
  • Research Advisory Consultant for Tavistock Relationships.

Research interests

My central research focus concerns people's family lives and relationships, particularly the family lives of children and young people. My theoretical interests are concerned with the connections and disconnections between people in their close relationships; notably, experiences and forms of relationality as these are shaped across global and local contexts, and by gender and generation, including aspects of emotions and embodiment. I am particularly interested in feminist, anthropological and historical work around these themes, with long-standing interests in the meanings of family and individuality, relatedness and autonomy. My current work has strong international and cross-cultural concerns, and extends to issues of how to understand ‘harm’ and ‘suffering’ in children’s family lives. Methodologically, I favour open-ended qualitative research, with a focus on the ways in which people understand their own everyday lives, and the implications for policy and professional practices. Earlier projects I have undertaken with funding from the ESRC and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have used a sociological focus to research contemporary family lives, including mothers with an eldest child aged 7; the family lives of young people aged 16-18; parents and children in step-families; and bereavement and loss in young people's lives. My current research is particularly framed by the following:

  1. In 2010 I helped organise a two day international Colloquium on Family Troubles? Exploring Changes and Challenges in the Family Lives of Children and Young People, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of York and London South Bank University. An edited collection with Policy Press was published in 2013 under this title, and the framework has been taken forward in various contexts since then, including events at the University of Reading, September 2015, and the International Sociological Association in Vienna, July 2016. For further details please see Several special journal publications are in press and in progress, including Sociological Research Online, Journal of Family Issues, Children’s Geographies. My own current work focuses particularly on children’s family troubles in diverse global contexts.
  2. I have a particular interest in relationships at the end of life, particularly with regard to children and young people's experiences of death. Previous work included a major literature review, culminating in several publications and a number of dissemination events: see Young People, Bereavement and Loss: Disruptive Transitions. More recently I have been involved with researching death in family lives in urban Senegal, West Africa, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, with a report available via open access, and several journal publications published and in progress:
  3. My interests also extend to the lives and relationships of children in China, working with colleagues at UCL Institute of Education in the UK, the University of New South Wales in Australia, and Renmin University, Beijing Normal University, and Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in China, to develop work around childhood in China, including the institutionalisation of childhood, children’s family lives, and research on the ‘best interests’ of children in state care in China.

I am a member of the Open University’s Strategic Research Area for Citizenship.

Teaching interests

I retired from teaching at the Open University in July 2015, where I was a Reader in Family Studies, teaching postgraduate research methods, and undergraduate social policy. Before joining The Open University in 2001, I worked at Oxford Brookes University where my teaching responsibilities included family sociology and family research (undergraduate and postgraduate), and contemporary sociological theory.

Impact and engagement

See the link at the side for public engagement work for Young People, Bereavement and Loss, and for the dissemination activities of the Leverhulme project Death in the Family in Urban Senegal, see

External collaborations

I regularly undertake reviews of work for a variety of academic journals and funding bodies. My research projects entail regular collaborative work with academics across the UK and beyond, particularly the University of Reading, and UCL Institute of Education London.

The Leverhulme funded project, Death in the Family in Urban Senegal is linked to the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar.

Work around childhood in China, and the Best Interests of the Child in China, is linked to the University of Renmin, Beijing Normal University, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, and University of New South Wales, Australia.

The work on Family Troubles involves a network of academics spread across Europe and the USA.

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