The 2007 conference ‘Monitoring Parents’ was one outcome of research by Ellie Lee and Frank Furedi about mothers feeding babies This research generated the foundation for what came next by encouraging interest from researchers also working on this aspect of parenthood in discussion and networking (including CPCS co-founder Charlotte Faircloth). It also formed the wellspring for emphasis on the interdisciplinary potential of parenting culture as an idea. Thinking about feeding babies through the lens of parenting culture meant drawing on insights from history, anthropology, philosophy, politics, psychology and sociology, opening up possibilities for wide-ranging discussion about what ‘parenting’ means as a socio-cultural construct, as a source of identity, and as a set of practices, across time and place.
Organising further collaborative events formed a main focus for the work that lay being the foundation, and continuation of CPCS. We were delighted to win funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for a seminar series ‘Changing Parenting Culture’ that ran through 2009 and 2010, and it was on the basis the experience of this series that we applied to become a University of Kent Research Centre in 2010.
Our initial aims, which continue to drive our work were set out as:
- To consolidate a genuine interdisciplinary research agenda around the construction and working of contemporary parenting culture.
- To develop provide an interdisciplinary forum for informed discussion of intensive motherhood and the new parenting culture.
- To consider, in particular, the way practices such as infant feeding, sleeping, disciplining etc. are influenced and modified by the demands of our parenting culture, and further explore gender and parenting culture.
- To involve post post-graduate and early career stage colleagues in this project.
- To bring together researchers, parenting organisations, policy makers from Britain and abroad in order inform the deliberation of the public on this issue.
- To widen the agenda of policy makers and help them to reflect on how their activities bears upon the experience of different constituencies of parents.
Since our formal foundation in 2011, we have continued to bring people together through a large number of international and local events. These activities and many of the discussions at them have been archived as we have gone along. An undoubted highlight was the 2016 event ‘Parenting and Personhood’ organised as a collaboration with University of Bergen’s Professor Hilde Danielsen and team.
Another key focus for our work has been the identification and development of a body of written work, that is accessible to and can be drawn on by those working to take forwards the study of parenting culture. We have published special issues and collections and books. Palgrave published Parenting Culture Studies by Lee, Bristow, Faircloth and Macvarish in 2014. Key themes in that book have been developed in subsequent monographs including by Jan Macvarish in her Neuroparenting: the expert invasion of family life and Jennie Bristow in Stop Mugging Grandma: the generation wars and why boomer blaming won’t solve anything.
One core aim of all of our work has been to encourage students and early career colleagues to see the study of parenting culture as a project for them, and the use of Parenting Culture Studies in teaching and as a source of inspiration and ideas for PhD students counts as one of our most valued achievements. We are also delighted to have welcomed many Visiting Researchers to the University of Kent, to develop and share their ideas with us. Our first, back in 2013 was Joan Wolf, and you can watch her Open Lecture ‘Is Breast Best?’ during that visit here.