Abstracts and papers

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

Brid Featherstone
Fathers in policy and practice
I will explore some of the key policy developments in relation to fathers that have emerged under the rubric of work/family balance and identify how these relate to a less well documented set of developments which call upon child welfare services to ‘engage’ fathers. I will argue that both sets of developments are underpinned by a reliance on a project of moral exhortation rather than legal entitlements. A model of fathering as important emotionally to their children is being promoted which, according to some research, may accord with many men’s preferences. This model remains silent about the material work that needs to be done to raise children and, in so doing, effaces women’s work and the contribution women make to facilitate men’s fathering. Furthermore, there can be a tendency among some of the influential fathers’ organisations to construct low paid women workers as a central obstacle to men’s ’involvement’ with their children. The paper will briefly consider some of the tensions emerging from some feminist analyses of contemporary policy developments and offer tentative thoughts on what should be fought for.

Geraldine Brady, Geraldine Brown and Gayle Letherby
Young parenthood: including fathers in the debate?

Whilst there has been increasing interest by government in the issue of teenage pregnancy much of the emphasis of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy has focused on pregnant young women and young mothers with little regard for the fathers of their babies. Indeed, a commonly held view is that young mothers are often parenting alone. There is an absence of the mention of young fathers and, in the UK context, a lack of published research about how young men experience fatherhood (Coleman and Dennison, 1998). Fathers, when they are mentioned within public policy and academic discourse relating to teenage pregnancy, are assumed to be an homogeneous group – often presented as young, disaffected and uninvolved in the lives of their children. Drawing on two qualitative research studies undertaken in 2004 and 2006 our paper suggests that little is known about the fathers of young women’s babies; a lack of data and of research masks diversity amongst fathers (particularly in terms of age), renders fathers ‘invisible’ and fails to capture the social reality of the lives of young parents. We encourage critical reflection on the current drive in health and social care policy to engage fathers; we argue that the wider sociological concepts of class, gender, ethnicity and masculinity are played out in the lives of young parents and that any attempt to include fathers needs to be located within a wider socio-political context which recognises the structural position of both women and men in society.

Esther Dermott
‘Intimate Fatherhood’

Drawing on accounts of fathering given by fathers themselves I suggest that the term ‘intimate fatherhood’ better encapsulates many of the ideas of contemporary fathering in the UK than ‘intensive fatherhood’. Developments in ideas of good fatherhood, which do indeed represent a marked cultural shift, are notable in that they centre on emotions, the expression of affection and the uniqueness and importance of the father-child dyad. Further, I suggest that contemporary fatherhood is based on this personal connection instead of being constituted by participation in the work of childcare; the behaviour associated with ‘intimate fatherhood’ therefore remains relatively fluid. Notably, this implies an ongoing lack of symmetry to the roles of father and mother, which leaves the primacy of mothers as responsible for the majority of childcare unchallenged.

Charlotte Faircloth
Attachment parenting, gender roles and (in)equalities of care

This paper is based on doctoral research with mothers in London who practice a parenting philosophy endorsing long-term mother-child proximity, typically breastfeeding for a period of several years (known as ‘attachment parenting’). The endorsement of emotionally absorbing forms of care on the part of the mother means this group amplify a more widespread injunction to mother ‘intensively’, at the same time that they form a ‘counter-culture’ within it – offering a useful vantage point from which to explore the question of gender roles in parenting. The body-centred discourse central to a maternalist philosophy (with the language of wombs, breasts and hormones) means notions of equality of care in attachment parenting are troubling. Yet attachment parents endorse the involvement of fathers in the care of children, and this has been matched by a notable ‘intensifcation’ of fathering in recent years in policy more widely. These measures have been conceived both as a means of creating stronger social bonds, and of easing the burden of childcare which typically rests with women (and its related career implications). This paper will address the contradiction between styles of parenting which argue for mother-child proximity and these calls for gender equality and paternal engagement. What tensions does this cause between mothers and fathers? How ‘involved’ can fatherhood be, given the embodied maternal care infants are said to require? Exploring the challenges families face in maintaining their philosophical choices opens up the relationship between choice and accountability, a novel theoretical area.

Link to recent paper

Sally Sheldon
Unmarried Fathers and Rights on Birth

This paper focuses on the Government’s announced intention to make it obligatory to include the name of an unmarried father on a child’s birth certificate (such registration is currently voluntary and, in the absence of a court order, requires the agreement of both mother and father). This reform can be located as part of an ongoing and uneasy renegotiation of the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood, in a world where marriage to a child’s mother no longer provides a secure foundation for grounding this link. This reform initiative can be used to illustrate many of the themes which emerged during a recent study of how fatherhood has been understood in English law, which I co-authored with Richard Collier (Fragmenting Fatherhood: a Socio-Legal Study, Hart, forthcoming 2008). These themes include the justification of men’s rights with regard to children through a rhetoric of child welfare; the way in which children’s rights have been reframed to emphasise a purported ‘right to genetic truth’ and a child’s right to be acknowledged by his or her father; the need to support for fathers who want to take responsibility for their children and quite specific ways of linking rights and responsibilities; the positing of fatherhood as a direct relationship with a child (rather than one mediated through the mother); and what we describe as a ‘gender convergence’ whereby the nature of fatherhood and fathering is increasingly seen to mirror, if not replicate, motherhood and mothering. This ‘gender convergence’ in turn relies on a ‘geneticisation’ of fatherhood and the current political currency of ideas of the need for equality between fathers and mothers. In line with the themes of this workshop, particular attention is paid here to the theme of convergence.

Richard Collier
Fatherhood, Fathers’ Rights and Responsibility: Rethinking the Relationship between Men and Parenting in Law and Policy

In the context of well-documented shifts in parenting culture, recent research has suggested many fathers now articulate legal claims, not just in a language of rights, justice and entitlement, but also, increasingly, via reference to ideas of care, caring and welfare. This paper reconsiders the development of fathers’ rights politics within the legal arena and, drawing on the findings of a study of UK fathers’ rights groups, seeks to trace a way through the often highly polarised debates in this area. The paper locates the shifting political terrain around fathers’ rights in the context not just of a dominant framework of gender neutrality and formal equality but also the emergence of distinctive policy agendas around ‘engaging fathers’, a rethinking of paternal responsibility in child welfare and development and a broader social and legal transformation in the idea of the ‘father-figure’. The heightened politicisation of fatherhood in the legal arena reflects broader cultural shifts around fatherhood and the complex and contradictory nature of the reconfiguration of gender relations that has profoundly reshaped debates about men’s parenting and law. The greater prominence of fathers’ rights politics, it will be argued, can be understood as one aspect of a complex renegotiation of men’s role as parents in the light of shifting gender relations, household forms, discourses of parenting and childhood, as well as changes in legal norms and modes of governance. Interrogating in particular ideas about men, masculinities and emotion in these debates, and as part of an attempt to reconceptualise the male subject in law, the paper charts a re-moralising of fatherhood in the context of some significant overlaps between the ideas about fathers contained in law, popular culture and contemporary fathers’ rights discourse. Far from dismissing fathers’ rights activism as a minority activity, the paper suggests these developments can tell us much about the times in which we live and the changing nature of parenting culture.

A version of this paper is published as ‘Rethinking Father’s Rights’, 2009, vol 39Family Law [January] pp 45-50. Themes explored in the paper are also discussed in more depth in R.Collier, The ‘Man of Law’: Essays on Law, Men and Gender, Routledge- Cavendish, London, forthcoming 2009: and R.Collier, ‘The Fathers Rights Movement, Law Reform and the New Politics of Fatherhood: Reflections on the UK Experience’, 2009, Journal of Law and Public Policy, in press.

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