Conference looks at reproductive choices, infant feeding and teenage parenthood

Child protection, reproductive choices, infant feeding and teenage parenthood (including planned teenage pregnancy and positive experiences of teenage motherhood) are among the topics to be discussed at an international conference on childrearing in the age of 'intensive parenting'.

Hosted and organised by the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, the conference will take place at the University’s Canterbury campus Monday 21 – Tuesday 22 May 2007.

Other discussion topics include: parenting in a climate of fear; parents as risk managers; understanding parenting culture; the ‘medicalisation’ of motherhood; gender and parenting and the ‘intensification’ of fatherhood; the emotional management of parents and the sacralisation of ‘bonding’; the politics of parenting culture; the regulation of pregnancy and childbirth; and childcare in the early months.

Contributors include: Dr Susan Douglas, Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan and co-author of The Mommy Myth; Professor Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology, University of Kent and author of Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear; Stephanie Knaak, University of Alberta and author of ‘Breast-feeding, bottle-feeding and Dr Spock: The shifting context of choice’; Dr Rebecca Kukla, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Carleton University at Ottawa and author of Mass Hysteria, Medicine, Culture and Women’s Bodies; Dr Ellie Lee, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, University of Kent and author of ‘Infant feeding in risk society’ and Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health: Medicalizing Reproduction in the US and Great Britain; and Dr Elizabeth Murphy, Professor of Medical Sociology, University of Nottingham and author of ‘Images of childhood in mother’s accounts of contemporary childrearing’ and Qualitative Methods and Health Policy.

Dr Ellie Lee, the conference organiser, explained that her own research about women’s experience of feeding their babies had led her to want to organise the event. ‘The research showed that a basic, everyday aspect of being a mother has become moralised and politicised,’ she said. ‘The choices women make in this area seem to have become bound up for many with identity, with demoralising consequences. As I looked further into the issue, it also became clear that this is only one such example among many.’

She continued: ‘By all accounts it seems as though mothering has become seen as too important to be left to mothers. As a result, mother-child interaction has become a laboratory, where politicians, professionals and experts of all kinds experiment about an expanding range of problems, real or imagined. The event provides a unique opportunity for critical engagement with this development which shapes the experience of all parents.’

Professor Frank Furedi, who will deliver a keynote introduction at the conference, said: ‘Since the turn of the century parenting has become a political football. Due to their lack of imagination policy makers increasingly embrace good parenting as the solution to virtually every social problem – poor education, crime, anti-social behaviour, obesity. However the politicising of childrearing has a destructive impact on family life and distracts mothers and fathers from the real challenges facing them.’

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