In the mid-2000s, Ellie Lee, Frank Furedi and Charlotte Faircloth were involved in research projects about this very necessary, but ostensibly mundane, aspect of being a parent. We spent time interviewing and talking with mothers, reading and reviewing existing research about this topic from disciplines including sociology, political science, anthropology, philosophy, and history, and carried out desk research about the history of infant feeding policy.
As we wrote up and published our work (for example, Faircloth, 2010, 2013; Lee, 2007a, 2007b, 2008, 2011; Lee and Bristow, 2009), we also developed an active dialogue with colleagues doing similar research to our own (Blum, 1999; Knaak, 2005, 2010; Kukla, 2005, 2006, 2008; Murphy, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004; Wall, 2001; Wolf, 2007, 2011) and discussed our research in many non-academic forums (with healthcare providers, advocacy groups, in newspapers, and in TV and radio debates, which you can see more of here).
As well as panels at our conferences, in 2011 we organised the event, Feeding Children in the new Parenting Culture to explore these themes further, featuring contributions from Professor Elizabeth Murphy (University of Leicester), Dr. Mary Fewtrell (ICH) and Professor Joan Wolf (Texas A&M University). In 2013, we were delighted to welcome Joan back, as our first international Visitor to the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies. During her stay Joan gave an Open Lecture (viewed over 30,000 times) which you can see here. The questions and discussion are posted here.
The conclusions we have drawn from this research are:
- We live at a time when mothers will inevitably be informed, more or less explicitly, that they are mistaken if they think that the work of raising a child involves making straightforward decisions.
- Mothers will encounter the idea that they need to understand that what they do is far more complicated and much more important than they might imagine. Furthermore, they will receive the message that a great deal is at stake that they may not recognize when they make what seem to them to be practical, simple decisions.
- The message to mothers (and also fathers) is that the health, welfare, and success (or lack of it) of their children can be directly attributed to the decisions they make about matters like feeding their children; ‘parenting’, parents are told, is both the hardest and most important job in the world. Tomorrow depends on it.
This article in the Guardian examines contemporary debates about feeding babies, citing the work of CPCS.