Kindred spirits : stories of sister relationships
This sociological study explores the construction of feminine subjectivities within biological sister relationships - a neglected, socially invisible tie. The qualitative research design, data collection and analysis are embedded in feminist standpoint theory and feminist post-structuralism. Sociological work in auto/biography is applied as a method for collecting and analysing sister life histories. Four methods were used to collect data from 37 women from varied class and ethnic backgrounds across six decades aged between 6 and 50 in the UK: a questionnaire; an Ecomap; a Flowchart; and a semi-structured depth interview. Five elements of the bond were documented: contact patterns, types of tie, factors affecting these ties, comparisons with female friendship, and changes over time. The data from 29 interviews were analysed through case studies, the auto/biographical method and grounded theory. A typology of four strands was developed to analyse the women's narratives: best friendship, close and distant companionship, the positioned and shifting positions discourses. Contact patterns between sisters were associated with forms of female friendship: some ties recalled the intensity of best friendship; others, the positive and negative aspects of distance and separateness of close and distant companionship. Sister ties evolve over time, moving from best friendship during girlhood to companionship in womanhood, or vice-versa. Change stems from circumstances external to the tie, and from internal shifts. These external changes - oscillating patterns of dependence and independence - are linked to turning-points and life events: changing school, acquiring and losing girlfriends and boyfriends, leaving home, starting work, divorce, bereavement, and mothering. Internal shifts are triggered by factors additional to life-stage and age: changing power relations and emotions. These are analysed in terms of the positioned discourse which reproduces elements of mother-daughter relationships, especially minimothering, where power tends to be hegemonic; and the shifting positions discourse, where role reversals occur and women alternately adopt dominant, dominated, or more equal positions of power. The role of 'agentic subjectivity' in the move in and out of one discourse to another is highlighted.