Swallow, Amanda Jayne (2017) A Virtual Ethnographic Enquiry: An Exploratory Study of Adult Children with a Parent in Prison. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Significant increases in prison populations in England and Wales, the United States and throughout Western Europe have consequently led to an increase in children who will experience parental imprisonment within these locations. Despite increased academic interest in children with a parent in prison, it remains that relatively little is known about this highly heterogeneous and hard-to-reach social group. In particular, there is a dearth of research undertaken which assesses adult children’s perspectives and experiences of parental imprisonment. The overall aim of this exploratory study thus attempted to overcome this gap in knowledge and examined current and retrospective accounts of parental imprisonment from adult children. Bearing in mind the hard-to-reach aspect of this social group, an unobtrusive, virtual ethnographic enquiry was employed for this study.

A thematic analysis of asynchronous computer mediated communication data, as found in an online virtual community comprising adult children with a parent in prison, was undertaken. A central theoretical concept utilised in this study was ‘stigma by association’. This concept was a useful analytic tool and served to highlight potential methods of information control and/or management adult children with a parent in prison may employ as a means of limiting the effects of stigma on their identity. Findings indicated that concealment, secrecy and withholding information about parental imprisonment might be employed by this social group. Reasons for adult children’s loss of contact with an imprisoned parent might include barriers to consistent and sustained contact, a parent’s prolonged imprisonment and/or high rate of recidivism. In addition, adult children with a parent in prison could be parentified, where they might be required to adopt an emotional and/or financial caregiver role for their imprisoned parent, non-imprisoned parent and/or younger siblings.

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