Balcombe, Jonquil (2020) Educating Mother: Examining the relationship between childrearing and childrearing pedagogy in 21 st Century Britain. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis seeks to understand the warrant for the advice given in childrearing manuals and to understand how how these books are read and used by real people. The 21st Century has seen a huge expansion in childrearing advice. Searching for ‘childrearing books’ on Amazon UK produces over 90,000 results. Simultaneously there has been a growing political impetus to develop a universal culture of parenting expertise and advice, exemplified by David Cameron’s (2016) assertion that ‘we all need more help’ raising children. The current trend for increasing parenting pedagogy in both the public and market spheres, rest on the premise that mothers adopt the teachings of childrearing experts, and this has a casual impact on children’s outcomes. But how mothers engage with childrearing advice is under-explored.

Building on Nicholas Rose’s (1999:208), suggestion that ‘Parents are bound into the language and evaluations of expertise at the very moment they are assured of their freedom and autonomy’, this study examines how mothers negotiate the knowledge claims and ‘expertise’ presented in childrearing manuals and employs critical realism to explore the mechanism’s behind mothers’ adoption, rejection and transformation of dominant childrearing pedagogy. This thesis departs from Rose by exploring and evaluating the emergent constructions of ‘good’ childrearing through a critical realist methodology. Critical realism, which combines ontological realism with the understanding that human knowledge is always conceptually mediated and situated within culture, history and society (epistemic perspectivism). Using critical realism to inform the methods and analysis allows this thesis to evaluate the warrant for current childrearing advice and simultaneously explore the it as a cultural construction.

By analysing thirty-six twenty-first century childrearing books I found there is no settled curriculum for childrearing. There is disagreement across the childrearing-pedagogy field on almost every aspect of ‘good’ childrearing. Science is evoked to defend the ideological claims of the manual writers, often by making claims that go beyond established knowledge . Rather than a coherent body of knowledge I found a messy dialogue between competing cultural scripts of ‘good motherhood’. How mothers respond to the language of childrearing advice was explored empirically in eleven in-depth semi-structured interviews with British mothers raising at least one child under eight . The research demonstrates how mothers attempt to balance contradictory scripts of ‘good motherhood’. An original textual elicitation method provided insight into how the minutiae of childrearing is imbued with meaning, finding that seemingly simple questions of how the child sleeps or eats become indicative of the mother’s identity as a ‘good mother’. By identifying the reflective mechanisms by which mothers negotiate advice this study demonstrates how mothers develop a myriad of different reflective approaches to childrearing. This thesis finds that mothers may publicly speak the language of the dominant cultural childrearing scripts, but do not necessarily follow ‘expert’ advice. Mothers reported feeling pressured to perform motherhood in line with the scripts of ‘good motherhood’; suggesting that although mothers do reject and resist childrearing ideas, there is an inherent risk in resistance. The mothers in this study were participating in the same broad parenting culture, but this culture does not present as homogeneous, or hegemonic, but is contextual and situated. Mothers employ mechanisms such as efficacy, ethical concern, empathy, and tacit knowledge to reject, adopt or transform salient advice within the rich, messy complexity of family relationships.

FINAL THESIS - Balcombe.pdf - Accepted Version
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