The Involved Observer: A Simmelian Analysis of the Boundary Work of Aunthood

Vanessa May, Kinneret Lahad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aims of this article are to, first, empirically investigate the experiences of aunts, who to a large extent have been ignored by family sociologists. Second, we aim to add to the existing theorising of everyday family life by bringing Simmel’s work – hitherto under-utilised in the field – into dialogue with the sociological literature on doing and negotiating families. Based on a textual analysis of online accounts posted on a US advice forum entitled ‘Dear Savvy Auntie’, we argue that Simmel’s notion of the stranger allows us to understand the position of some aunts as ‘involved observers’ who are both inside and outside the ‘family unit’ constituted by parents and children. Third, our article contributes to the literature by exploring the boundary work that being an involved observer entails as aunts negotiate simultaneously rigid and permeable boundaries that exist between the family unit and extended kin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Simmel
  • aunts
  • boundary work
  • family
  • the stranger

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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