Managing uncertainty: Lone parents' time horizons and agency in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
Objective: This article shows the analytical value of an approach that integrates theoretical elaborations about the temporal orientations of different types of agency (pragmatic, identity, and life course) and uncertainty management, to analyse how families dealt with the challenges emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Background: The pandemic has been a major shock that has seriously challenged families' ability to adapt to sudden changes affecting multiple domains of life. Switzerland established a low-intensity lockdown in the spring of 2020, with social-distancing measures based on official recommendations. Changes in employment situations and school closures resulted in significant alterations to family life. This study examines how individuals with a trajectory of lone parenthood dealt with the increased uncertainties generated by this novel context.
Method: Empirical data stems from the fourth wave of fieldwork of the longitudinal project "The multiple paths of lone parenthood", ongoing in French-speaking Switzerland since 2012–2013. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 26 participants between April and June 2020.
Results: The emergence of novel situations, the ambiguity of social-distancing measures, and the breakdown of routines accentuated pragmatic agency for most families. With the chronification of uncertainty, parents sought to regain identity agency by restabilising everyday routines. Uncertainty about future developments diminished life course agency, especially for parents in more insecure situations.
Conclusion: The study offers an original perspective on the challenges of living through increased uncertainty and changing environments triggered by the pandemic, by highlighting the relevance of temporalities for understanding agency within life course processes.
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