1 May 2018
Parenting the Crisis: the cultural politics of parent-blame examines how pathologising ideas about failing, chaotic and dysfunctional families are manufactured across media, policy and public debate, and tracks how these ideas contribute to a powerful consensus that Britain is in the grip of a ‘parenting crisis’

What is one author, publication, or event that significantly influenced how you developed this work?

The ideas behind this book really started to come together and germinate while I was re-visiting the work of Stuart Hall, whose canon of groundbreaking scholarship is so deeply resonant today. His book The Hard Road To Renewal provides a map that shows how political actors capitalise on resentment and push through dangerous, authoritarian forms of populism. He was writing about Thatcher but we can see parallels with Theresa May. In my book, I am exploring the range of ways that such resentments get orchestrated towards parents, families, children - and how they work to divide and cleave families into categories of ‘deservingness’ and moral worth. And of course, Policing the Crisis, which Hall co-wrote (and which inspired the title of my book!) has been hugely influential on my research. Policing the Crisis showed how the mass media, the judiciary, and forms of public commentary worked together in the 1970s to produce a panic about ‘mugging’ and in doing so, generated public consent for new aggressive forms of policing. My book takes its cue from this and explores how the panic about ‘bad parenting’ has generated public consent for limiting welfare support and making it conditional on behaving in particular ways.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?

That parent-blame has a long history, but that there are kinder and more solidaristic ways to relate to one another, and that by thinking about these issues we can start to imagine and work towards more equitable relationships of care and mutual support. I hope this book helps open up conversation and reflection about what parent-blame is, how it works and how it gets ‘put to work’ in wider policy processes and public debates.

What contribution do you hope this work makes to processes of social change?

We are living in cruel times, and that cruelty is ‘made sensible’ by various machineries of blame, which propose that if you are struggling to survive then it must be down to your individual conduct and choices. This book slices through different periods of crisis and shows how those same ideas of deficiency and irresponsibility get reinvented and reanimated. There is a growing resistance to those machineries and I hope that this book can contribute to them.

What follow-up work are you developing?

I am currently researching different periods of welfare state discourse and action - from nineteenth century local philanthropy and small-scale charitable support which was available to those deemed ‘worthy’ or ‘deserving’, to the establishment of the welfare state in the post-war period during which ideas of entitlement and social citizenship were established, and through to post-welfare and anti-welfare ideas that are in circulation today. I am a co-organiser for a forthcoming seminar series on these ‘welfare imaginaries’, and developing a research project that will explore the welfare architecture of Lancaster with Imogen Tyler.

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