This panel explores the implications of a trend towards expert-informed, outcome-oriented 'intensive parenting' in a range of ethnographic contexts. We focus on the intersection between kinship, expertise and anxiety, highlighting the paradoxical perception of parents as omnipotent and incompetent.
A trend towards 'intensive parenting' has been widely noted by scholars working in in a range of Euro-American contexts. This 'parenting' they contend, is not just a new word for childrearing, or care activities associated with traditional kinship roles. Instead, it requires a certain level of expertise and an affiliation to a way of raising a child, framed in theories that attribute parental centrality to particular 'outcomes'. Parents are urged to 'spend a tremendous amount of time, energy and money in raising their children' (Hays 1996:x). More broadly, recent social policies in the UK and elsewhere have invested in 'parental education' under the assumption that parenting is the source of, and solution to, different social ills.
These changes have had a profound impact on the way adults experience parenthood: cast as both omnipotent and incompetent, parents are encouraged to seek 'support' from experts, triangulating the relationship with their child. Parenting has become bound to the job of risk management, at once creating and fuelling the market for these experts who 'enable' parents to avoid certain risks and 'optimise' their children (Lee 2007). We ask then, how does expertise intersect with kinship relations? Are parents actually anxious and 'paranoid' (Furedi 2002), or does ethnographic evidence reveal something different? Is this an international trend, or something confined to specific class-based milieus in specific contexts? This panel will explore the implications of this wider historical shift, through the use of ethnographic examples.