Families on the space–time continuum: Conceptualizing and measuring temporal and spatial dimensions



In this article, I propose a new approach to study the opportunities and challenges for low-income families through a focus on two key dimensions of family life: time and space. I show how the interaction of these two dimensions produces a range of scenarios for different types of social support to emerge.


The space–time continuum (STC) is a theoretical framework in physics that removes the distinction between time and space and, instead, treats them as part of a seamless continuum. Similar to its adaptation in psychology, I use it to develop a model of family dynamics to better understand the correlates of kinship support.


Drawing on data drawn from a longitudinal project in Nairobi, Kenya, the spatial dimension is operationalized as the proportion of kin who live in close proximity and the temporal pertains to the duration of time in which family members maintain particular arrangements. Multinomial logit regression models are used to analyze the relationship between STC exposure and the odds of having each type of support composition.


The receipt of specific types of support from kin does vary across the STC quadrants though not entirely consistent with expectations. Moreover, the role of non-kin was found to be surprisingly low across all waves of data collection, underscoring the continued importance of kin-based relationships.


The space–time continuum approach offers a way to connect macro level factors such as labor market constraints to micro level adaptation, agency, change and continuity in family structure and function. In doing so, I also make a case for the critical role that research in the African context can play in the development of theory and methodological innovation in family sociology.

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