Abstracts and papers

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

Heather Piper
The Problem of ‘touch’ and other intergenerational issues

Having spent some time researching fears around professionals touching children and young people, it soon became apparent that these fears cannot be separated from the attitudes/fears of others, including those in government, but also of peers and parents. If professionals were confident that their peers and children’s parents were likely to behave as though a teacher touching a child on the back for example, was normal behaviour rather than that of a pervert, then touching would not be the problem it is. The issue is not confined to the UK but is also widespread across Anglophone societies. I have argued elsewhere about the moral panic around touching and other intergenerational behaviours and about the anti risk-taking approach of most adult-child relations. The role of families in this panic is particularly interesting. As others at the seminar series have noted, families are being undermined by current interventions, yet nursery workers and teachers are also handicapped in their duties. Parents buying into the rhetoric that others know best, yet also buying into the notion that other adults are not to be trusted, and that professionals should not get too near to their child, ensures the messy and time consuming bits of child rearing (nappy changing, cleaning up cuts, putting on sun lotion etc) remain the role of the parent (if not the child themselves), who can never be too far away. Drawing attention to such issues and the obvious consequences for the employment potential of many parents may help provide some ammunition for encouraging the necessary changes required in parental and other cultures.

Jennie Bristow
 Licensed to Hug – Adult-child relations and the national vetting scheme

With the establishment of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, the UK now has a formal vetting and barring scheme affecting all adults who work with children, either in a professional or voluntary capacity, if they do so ‘frequently’ (once a month or more) or ‘intensively’ (over three or more days in a 30-day period). The vetting and barring scheme has grown out of the expansion of the work of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), and is codified by legislation (the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006). The vetting scheme is widely understood as a child protection measure, prompted by the Bichard Inquiry into the Soham murders of 2002. But reported experience of the impact of CRB-checking suggests that one outcome of routine mass vetting has been to encourage a wariness among adults about protecting or helping children, because of concerns that they are not qualified to do so or that they might make themselves vulnerable to false allegations of abuse. This paper discusses the extent to which the national vetting scheme has contributed to the notion of ‘child protection’ as a technical, official endeavour, thus exacerbating the trend towards responsibility-aversion among the adult community as a whole.

Link to AV recording

Stuart Waiton Antisocialisation: How intervention undermines individuals and communities.

This paper will argue that a, and arguably the, major problem regarding adult-youth relations, is not the activities of youth but the inactivity of adults, generated in part by the fact that adults no longer, at an individual and societal level, back each other up. Without accepted norms of engagement predicated upon a certain level of trust, today adults often feel paralysed, unsure of themselves and of their role in either regulating the behaviour of young people or simply supporting children they encounter in their daily lives.  The socialising role of publicly acting adults is crucial for any society. Unfortunately, as this paper will attempt to show, much of the ‘social’ policy being developed to apparently socialise young people is in essence based upon an approach that can best be described as one that results in the anti-socialisation of society.

Helene Guldberg
Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear

This paper will chart changes that have taken place in children’s lives over the last decades – in particular the erosion of outdoor unsupervised play. Overprotective parents’ anxieties are often blamed for what is increasingly referred to as the ‘cotton-wool kids’ phenomenon. But changes in the amount of freedom and responsibility children are given cannot be explained on the basis of the anxieties of individual parents. Instead the cotton-wool kids phenomenon must be understood in the context of a broader cultural obsession with risk, which has had a major impact upon policymakers, public institutions and the media debate, as well as upon teachers and parents. This paper will highlight the effects of today’s risk-aversion on children’s ability to handle risk, and on their physical, social and emotional development.


Lydia Martens
‘Safety, Safety, Safety for Small Fry’: The Conjoining of Children and Safety in Commercial Communities of Parenthood

This paper examines the relationship between contemporary parenthood, childhood, child safety and consumer culture. It draws primarily on ethnographic research conducted in two consumer events in the UK: The Baby Show and Mothercare World. We point out that parenthood is embedded in consumer culture and argue that the commercial events investigated generate commercial communities of parenthood that operate as information conduits on parenting moralities and practices. We distinguish three different ways in which child safety is present in domestic products and then go on to consider how commercial communities of parenthood construe the child and the parent in relation to domestic safety. We argue that commercial communities of parenthood construct a risk-averse parenthood and that there is a moral imperative on parents to invest in child safety products, even though the effectiveness of these commodities is questionable. We conclude by discussing the implications of a risk-averse parenthood for the relationship between public and private dangers, surveillance and children’s freedoms.


Timo Heimerdinger
Dummies and Fairies. Family culture and the question of authority.

The conditions of living with risks manifest themselves not only in political discourse or public debates but also in the private sphere of everyday family life. Here, avoiding and handling risks has become an important task in bringing up and educating a child. I want to discuss everyday risk management by focussing on a very concrete example: the dummy, its use and its withdrawal. By using the concept of medicalisation, I would like to examine how parents make use of the cultural phenomenon of the dummy fairy when making decisions in the predicament of contradictory knowledge and in the context of risk. Expert advice and authorities hereby become replaced by self-reflexive agency.

Sue Battersby Infant feeding and the mother midwife interface in the antenatal period.

With the advent of the Baby Friendly Initiative and recent NICE recommendations there has been an increase in the promotion of breastfeeding in the UK. In the last national Infant feeding Survey the initiation rate had increased to 76% but this still left 24% of mothers who opted to artificially feed their infants. The BFI recommends that mothers should no longer be asked, whilst pregnant, how they intend to feed their baby and all mothers regardless of their feeding intentions should be informed of the benefits of breastfeeding. These recommendations have created a dilemma for many midwives because on one hand they are expected to promote breastfeeding whilst on the other they are expected to facilitate choice and control for women. 
Despite the recommendation from the BFI many midwives still do ask mothers their feeding intentions in the antenatal period. However, once they have asked there appears to be a major discrepancy between the information and support that is then provided to mothers who have decided to breastfeeding and those who have decided to artificially feed their infants.  Those who wish to breastfeed receive a plethora of information and there are specific breastfeeding antenatal classes available. Those who choose to artificially feed their infants receive little or no information and very little support. Midwives have expressed their concerns about this and feel that mothers who formula feed are treated like second class citizens.


Helen Lomax ‘You are going to be a wonderful breast-feeder’: Mothers, midwives and the micro-politics of infant-feeding

The U.K. has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the developed world, a status which has contributed to a swathe of policies designed to increase breastfeeding in order to ameliorate maternal and infant morbidity and reduce health inequalities. Reasons cited are complex and include: cultural and intergenerational factors, lack of support for the breastfeeding mother and the technologised ‘production-line’ context in which women commence infant-feeding. There has, however, been little research on the tensions that mothers and service providers may experience between competing discourses on parenting and infant nutrition and the constantly shifting policy agenda on these issues. The aim of this paper is to address this gap in the literature in order to explore the ways in which midwives and mothers manage and negotiate information and advice about infant feeding during routine maternity provision. Drawing on the theoretical framework of video-based conversation analysis and discursive psychology, the paper will explore how particular preferred professional and patient identities are accomplished locally and sequentially in order to explore the range of discursive positions on infant-feeding. Excerpts from the transcribed data will be used to explore the ways in which mothers and midwives negotiate the category of ‘good mother’ vis-à-vis the ‘breast is best’ cultural discourse. Mothers’ strategies to present themselves as ‘good’ mothers irrespective of feeding method will be discussed together with the ways in which midwives negotiate the  policy and professional discourses on infant nutrition and women-centred midwifery. The paper will conclude by suggesting that postnatal care is a complex site where governmental and international policies on infant-feeding may collide with professional discourses and wider, cultural beliefs about what is best for mothers and babies. Midwives working with these groups of women can be observed to be engaged in situated negotiation work in which they attempt to promote infant feeding regimes which may conflict with mothers’ embodied and situated experiences.

Rebecca Kukla 
“Preconception Care” and the Transformation of Women’s Health Care into Reproductive Medicine In this paper I examine the recent, vigorously touted “preconception” care movement in the United States.  With the 2009 publication of What to Expect Before You Are Expecting, and the Center for Disease Control’s 2006 guidelines urging that all primary care for women of reproductive age be treated as “preconception” care, the time when women’s bodies are interpreted as maternal bodies is extended backwards to before conception even occurs – and indeed, often to before women are even planning to become pregnant.  The new CDC guidelines explicitly warn that “the average woman of reproductive age encounters the medical system 3.8 times per year and any of these occasions may be a woman’s last before she becomes pregnant.”  I situate the preconception care movement within more general trends in health care delivery and public health messaging, which threaten to transform all of women’s health care into reproductive health care — often to the detriment of women’s health and well-being.  In an age when mothering is already figured as an intensive risk management project, the new cultural and medical emphasis on preconception care threatens to extend the social imperative to regulate one’s body in accordance with this project across women’s entire life cycle.


Elizabeth Yardley, Pam Lowe, and Ellie Lee 
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Britain

In recent years, consumption of alcohol by pregnant women has gained increasing status as a health concern. The idea that any consumption of alcohol through the duration of pregnancy, but also in the pre-conception period, presents a health risk to the fetus has become institutionalised. A consensus has emerged among organisations responsible for determining the advice given to the population about maternal health that an approach of abstinence should be advised. Underpinning this abstinence policy is the typification of the effects of consumption of alcohol for the fetus as the condition Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The construction of FAS as a health risk which British public health policy should be concerned with has not been the subject of a great deal of sociological research. US scholars have, however, interrogated this issue in some detail. In this paper we first briefly summarise the conceptualisation of FAS offered in this scholarship. Analysis of the US story of FAS emphasises developments including exaggeration (the broadening of the amount of alcohol considered dangerous); democratisation (the construction of FAS as a risk to the population in general); and medicalisation (the representation of drinking behaviour as a concern for the healthcare system). By examining policy and media reports we consider whether these same developments hold for the British context, and whether any other features of FAS emerge as important for the construction of alcohol consumption in this cultural context.


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