Abstracts and papers

Slides from the following presentations can be found via this link (and scrolling through to the relevant paper)

Frank Furedi
Paranoid Parenting
Frank Furedi published Paranoid Parenting, a book that set out the contours of contemporary parenting culture and explored its problems. This book generated a great deal of debate, and since its publication has influenced public discussion about ‘parenting’. A new edition was published in October 2008. In this opening session Frank Furedi will set out his thesis and discuss it with opinion formers.

Helen Reece
Parental Responsibility as Therapy

Sociologists and other commentators have identified a trend towards the therapeutic in contemporary society. They have included legal developments within this trend, for example compensation culture, and therapeutic justice. So far, this analysis has tended to focus on legal process as opposed to legal content.  However, the trend towards the therapeutic also casts light on changes in legal content.  In this paper, I take the specific example of parental responsibility orders and show that the grounds on which such orders are made has shifted from being about decision-making power to being about the parties’ feelings and emotions.  This is an unusual (if not unique) example of an order for a status being granted specifically to make the applicant ‘feel good’, and is an indication of the extent to which the law has become therapeutised.

The paper presented is available here: Helen Reece, ‘The Degradation of Parental Responsibility’ in Rebecca Probert, Stephen Gilmore and Jonathan Herring (eds), Responsible Parents and Parental Responsibility (Oxford: Hart, 2009)

Gayle Letherby
Educated for Motherhood: natural instincts versus expert advice

Although motherhood is something that all women are ‘expected’ to do it is only considered ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ when achieved within the so-called ‘right’ sexual, social and economic circumstances. Similarly, mothering is often thought to be based on instinct but at the same time mothers-to-be and mothers are expected to listen to and follow expert opinion and advice. In this paper Gayle Letherby explores the pressures and tensions surrounding the, at times contradictory, expectations of women who mother.

Mary Ann Kanieski
Modernity and medicalisation of motherhood

This paper analyzes the process in which mothers’ emotions became an object of scientific investigation and intervention. By tracing the medical and psychological research literature on mothers’ love, this paper identifies the rhetorical strategies used by researchers to medicalise mothers’ emotions. Medicalisers viewed mothers’ love as essential to children’s wellbeing. Maternal love was constructed as threatened by changing women’s roles, the isolated nuclear family, and the growth of individualism. The research on maternal emotion individualized social problems and promoted greater scrutiny of mothers’ behaviour.
Link to Paper

Ciara Doyle
The Nuclear Family as Self Fulfilling Prophesy: Representations of Kin in TV Parenting Programmes

In this seminar I will be exploring representations of grandmothers and other kin in TV parenting programmes. Grandmothers exist just one step outside the nuclear family. They could therefore more accurately be described as kin, or existing within kinship networks, that existing in ‘The Family’. As such, the presence of a Grandmother in a family home can, theoretically, act as a disrupter and threat to strict interpretations and definitions of the family based on modern nuclear family ideals. In this paper I will be arguing that within Reality Television Parenting Programmes this is exactly what happens, and results in a presentation of grandmothers in passive and negative terms only, the most dominant two being Grandmother as interfering but incompetent and Grandmother as helpless victim.
In contrast, discussions with focus groups show audiences with a complex interpretation of these messages, underplayed by a very different concept of family roles with clearly acknowledged space for grandmothers.

Link to AV recording on Youtube

Janice McLaughlin
Boundaries of care and parenting: How does citizenship and care intersect in the lives of parents of disabled children?

Parents of disabled children experience an intensification of what is expected of them as parents. They do so in a context where social responses to disability mean that they are stepping outside ‘normal’ narratives of family; where they are far more embedded in medical practices that sustain their child’s life; and where, in the UK, welfare provision is directed towards parental responsibility for care. The question is whether the additional care needs of children with disabilities should be seen as simply additional components to the parental portfolio of care responsibilities? Parents can experience the role of being intensive carers as different from what they expect parenting to be. This paper, based on a 3 year ESRC ethnographic study working with families in two locations in the UK, investigates the ways in which parents of disabled babies and infants explore their changing experiences of caring and parenting and the distinctions they draw between the two. The paper, by its focus on disability, contributes to discussions of what is framed as parenting and what is framed as caring in everyday settings of shattered public/private boundaries, the presence of medical technology and ‘different’ narratives of family. This is put in a political context where the paper considers the implications for how we think about what place care has within citizenship. At one level the caring role parents – most often mothers – are expected to provide suggests a gendered privatisation of care and a minimisation of care within welfare citizenship. At another level the participation of parents – most often mothers – in challenging the privatisation of care and the modes of care they receive through public sector provision suggests a politicisation of care, which requires a presence in welfare citizenship debates
Link to Paper

Maud Perrier
Being a Good Mother: Morality, Age and Class

This paper is based on qualitative interviews with younger and older mothers and examines how they construct and present themselves as good mothers in relation to dominant discourses of good motherhood. Here I will focus on presenting my analysis of how mothers’ moral maternal selves are articulated across interconnected sites of difference such as class, gender, age at first birth and employment. My investigation of the moral work undertaken by mothers looks at their comparisons with other mothers, their experiences of ‘shared’ parenting and of combining mothering with paid work. Drawing on feminist research of family life and motherhood which has already highlighted the importance of the moral, I develop this argument further through my empirical findings to show that mothers’ moral positionings are constituted through, and shaped by, intersecting differences of, amongst others, age and class.  For example I discuss how moral mothering selves are nearly always constituted by mothers in relation to an ‘other’, often a gendered, aged or classed other. Moreover, I also show that whilst the moral script of putting children’s needs first (Ribbens et al, 2000) is central in mothers’ narratives and continues to be a fundamental requirement for good moral motherhood, the intensification of mothering has further extended the moral terrain of good mothering. Thus the interconnections between changing discourses of good mothering and how mothers draw on and negotiate these discourses to construct their moral selves are explored. My research points to both the unchallenged and absolute status of ‘putting children’s first’ as a moral imperative for mothers and to the emergence of a new moral script, articulated through an intensive and child-focused mothering ideology. In conclusion I emphasize the importance of developing a critique of intensive mothering which highlights the renewed significance of mothering as a key site for the construction and (re)production of classed moral selves.

Jan Macvarish
Teenage Motherhood and the Construction of the New Model Parent
This paper will argue that since the late 1990s, UK policy concerning teenage pregnancy and parenthood has set important precedents in the way in which the family is constructed and related to by the state. The incorporation of teenage parenthood into health promotion and social inclusion frameworks has allowed an apparently de-moralised construction of the teenage mother and her child, but closer inspection reveals that there are new stigmas associated with young parenthood. In particular, the shift to a ‘parenting as skill’ approach assumes that adequate child-rearing requires planning, self-scrutiny, knowledge and utilization of ‘techniques’, and the acceptance of formal support. The criteria of good parenthood today include, avoiding ‘risky’ behaviours such as smoking, unhealthy eating and bottle-feeding and embracing a style of motherhood that is baby-centred, informed by external expertise, emotionally ‘soft’ and educative in style and able to reject the ‘inappropriate’ influence of family and peers. This sits uneasily with common characterizations of ‘the teenager’. The teenage parent occupies the complicated position of being both adult and child at a time when children are viewed as being particularly ‘at-risk’, and adults are often cast as being less able to spontaneously meet their children’s needs. Teenage parents and their children are therefore constructed as ‘vulnerable’ and in need of ‘intensive support’ from professionals and the state to ensure the welfare of themselves and their children. The paper works between an analysis of the policy construction of young parenthood and the lived experience of actual young parents, drawn from a qualitative, longitudinal study.

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