Masculinities, Identities and Risk: Transition in the Lives of Men as Fathers

Masculinities, Identities and Risk: Transition in the Lives of Men as Fathers

Project Team


  • Professor Amanda Coffey
  • Professor Corinne Squire

Previously employed on the project

  • Dr Mark Finn

Project Description

Becoming a father for the first time can be a life-changing experience.

The Men as Fathers project sought to find out just how life-changing it is by drawing on and extending a previous Economic and Social Research Council-funded project (ESRC) carried out from 1999 to 2001 (referred to as our heritage sample).

The extended project explored ways in which men come to terms with becoming a first-time father and any implications this has for their identities, relationships and lives over time.

Research questions

  • How do men interpret the changes in their relationships, identities and lives as they enter parenthood, and how do they understand and negotiate masculinities, fatherhood and risk across biographical, generational and historical time?
  • How does conducting an interpretive, qualitative longitudinal study illuminate the shifting experiences, patterns of identification, linked lives, and socio-cultural dynamics involved in the making of men and fathers?
  • How effective is the strategy of using cultural images to historically contextualise biographical data? What is the utility of a research design combining intensive and extensive tracking of individuals across different life stages?

Methods for data collection

Qualitative longitudinal (QL) information, collected from the heritage sample of men in 1999 (before and after the birth of their first child), was revisited by the project team to gain a more focused understanding of the experiences of fathers over a time of intensive change.

A fourth interview with nineteen participants from this group when their first child was eight years old allowed us to explore to what extent the fathers’ aspirations and ideas of risk have changed over the years due to fatherhood. Under Timescapes, the project sample was also extended to include a group of sixteen men from South Wales who were interviewed three times over an eighteen-month period covering the transition to first-time fatherhood.

The data – mainly (but not exclusively) collected through semi-structured interviews organised around biographical/life story themes – showed the unique potential of QL study for the collection of temporal data. Development of our questioning strategy within the interviews enabled us to bring further to the fore issues of biographical and generational (dis)continuities and socio-cultural change, along with participants’ complex understandings of time.

Visual methods also formed an important aspect of our project work, with different techniques used in each round of interviews (collage, visual narrative and self-generated images). We paid particular attention to the use of supplementary techniques in expanding participants’ temporal horizons.

The project research has produced over 130 interview and focus group transcripts; the majority of which have been transferred to the Timescapes archive.

Reports and Publications

Thinking aloud: thoughts about our research

Project 4: Masculinities, Identities and Risk

Thinking Aloud collected methods and ethics issues that arose from Timescapes research projects. As the name suggests, these were thoughts and ideas rather than formal research outputs.

Timing of intervals between interviews

For this project, the timing of interviews became an important issue as we started to reflect upon the intervals between interviews previously conducted.

In a previous study with first time fathers, interviews were carried out at (1) 2-3 months prior to the birth, (2) 2-4 months after, and (3) when the child was 8-9 months old.

The event of the birth itself set up big differences between interviews at stages 1 and 2 and this allowed for an exploration of important changes and continuities at personal and social levels – perceptions and negotiations of change, as well as notable shifts in men’s relationship to themselves, others, time, the everyday, and so on.

There were, however, no great changes for the men themselves between interviews at stages 2 and 3 but very much a continuation of what had gone before in the talk and lives of the men.

We put this down to there being no significant turning points or events (for fathers) between when the child was 4 and 9 months old, other than of course some mothers returning to work, the re-arranging of lifestyles and daily schedules, and various micro and unspoken of changes that we did not disregard. Fathers often talked of ‘waiting in the wings’ in interview 2 (interesting in itself, of course).

We thought that, in the next round of interviews, we’d return to participants when the child was 12 months, thinking that this could generate data on some of the macro transitions and continuities that potentially occur in the lives of first-time fathers around this time, while still capturing some of the micro shifts in these early months.

At 12 months, the child could be crawling and recognising the father more explicitly through sound/words/responsiveness that which many of the men were waiting in the wings for. The significance of 12th month as an ‘anniversary’, and first birthday, as a socially recognised point of temporal reference is one that we could fruitfully exploit as a time of celebration, reflection and expectation.