Researching with Young People who Provide Primary Care for a Family Member with Mental or Physical Health Problems: A Critical Psychology Approach

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Using a critical psychology approach, this research examines the experiences of young people providing primary care for a family member with mental or physical health problems. A poststructural stance led to the questioning of past research that has been driven by a social justice agenda to act in the interests of young carers, but derives problematically from the construction of children in Western society as innocent, partially competent and vulnerable. In this same culturally specific context, young carer research has been predominantly adult-designed, adult-led and conceived from an adult perspective, and hence reflects adult-centred interpretations and agendas. The socially constructed nature of childhood was examined in terms of a Foucauldian-type genealogy and the roles
of developmental psychology and the psy-complex, which were brought together with a children’s rights perspective to advance a new approach to research that could develop a young carer’s standpoint. This encompassed a collaborative approach with a group of young people, between the ages of 12 and 17 years, in the development of the research design and methods and provided the opportunity for them to stipulate their own terms of
participation and to be involved in the analysis of the data. This resulted in a prolonged immersion in the home lives of these young people and their families. It also included ethnographic work in young carer networks. Using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis to interrogate the data, there emerged a complex interrelationship of dominant Western discourses about the adult-child binary and ‘normal’ children, adolescents, and family. The various subject positions available under these discourses stemmed largely from the problematic and polarising impact of normalising discourses that positioned young carers
as not normal, compromised, and missing out on an idealised and culturally constructed Western childhood and family life. This in turn produced a range of tensions and complexities as the lives of young carers are generally in conflict with these discourses. There was, however, often resistance to these normalising discourses, which included the positioning of young carers and their families in various ways as ‘better off’ and ‘better than’ peers. To a significant extent the outcomes of this research can be seen as a complex narrative about normalisation and resistance. Importantly, by collaborating with young
carers, this research has moved the conversation away from the more superficial and negative aspects of caring that dominant the research literature and provided space for the emergence of issues that are more important to these young people, including some positive perspectives on their situation, such as reciprocal family loyalty and support. A significant outcome was the validation of the epistemological and methodological foundations of this research with young people. The approach allowed the performativity of young people to strongly emerge, evidenced not only through highly complex caring roles, but often in their capacity for very sophisticated insight and critical analysis. This level of performativity starkly contradicts the dominant discourses about young people and the adult-child binary that have acted to marginalise young people. By unpacking these culturally constructed discourses and creating space for alternative discursive regimes, this research can provide a basis for reform of the existing social justice failures in respect of young carers.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Fox, Rachael, Principal Supervisor
  • Bernoth, Maree, Co-Supervisor
Award date29 Feb 2016
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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