Political polarization and intimate distance: Negotiating family conflicts during a high-risk protest movement

Ruby YS LAI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Political polarization not only threatens democracy, but also disrupts family lives, causing clashes between family members with discordant political orientations. This article examines how individuals negotiate family conflicts during political divides, by focusing on the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement in Hong Kong. Based on data drawn from interviews conducted with 37 self-identified protest participants, I develop the concept of intimate distance in order to capture the way in which the participants negotiated political disagreements with their immediate family. Individuals make peace with their families during a high-risk movement, not merely by restoring closeness, but also by adjusting the intimate distance with their family members in three interconnected aspects: everyday family life, cognitive and emotional aspects. Individuals employ a repertoire of practices, together with emotion work and boundary work, to alleviate confrontations, rebuild consensus, and contain political risks. This study contributes to a more nuanced conceptualization of intimacy and family conflict resolution, and unravels the impact of family interactions on the intensification or alleviation of ideological and affective polarization in relation to the interpersonal and societal level.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Sociology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Anti-extradition bill movement
  • Hong Kong
  • family
  • intimacy
  • political polarization
  • social movement


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