Critical Materialism: A window on the 21st Century

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    The concept of “maternalism” emerged onto the socio-political stage during the mid-19th century, initiated by the army of middle class female social workers that arose within the deprived urban areas that grew rapidly in England after the Industrial Revolution. Historian Seth Koven reflected that such women ‘used maternalist imagery and arguments in advancing themselves and their visions of child welfare’ (Koven 1993, p.125).
    Maternalism was a markedly different way of analysing the problems emerging from working class, industrial poverty than the individualistic self-help view taken by the mainstream culture dominated by men (the “malestream”). This paper will explore the relationship between the maternalist and malestream agendas in both historical and contemporary culture, from the perspective that maternalist initiatives are only likely to succeed when
    they are in harmony with similar malestream policies, the consequences of this situation and its particular impact upon mothering in the current post-industrial Neo-Liberal milieu. The examples used will be drawn from English society, but will also have relevance to other Anglo-American nations, particularly the United States. It will be suggested that in order to ‘break the glass’ of the current malestream ideology, we need to consider the evolutionary roots of mothering, and the impact of the industrial and post-industrial periods upon this, in particular the professionalisation of child care and the politicisation of parenting: ‘a reframing and centering of childrearing as a job requiring particular know how and expertise... a complex skill which must be learnt... the politicisation of parenting’ (Edwards and Gillies 2013, p.33). The conclusion reached is that the development of a critical maternalism could be used to question a dominant ideology which currently subjects our youngest children to a malestream-derived professionalisation of care which additionally creates stress for their parents, mothers in particular, in a society in which ‘fear governs modern parenting practices now more than ever’ Henderson et al (2010, p.232). It is suggested that a discussion of this nature may eventually lead to ‘policies... grounded on the best available evidence of what human beings are like’ (Singer 1999, p. 61), resulting in
    an improvement in mental health and consequently, well-being for both mothers and their children (Jarvis et al 2014).
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
    EventOMEP EUROPEAN CONFERENCE 2016 - UK, Canterbury, United Kingdom
    Duration: 5 May 20167 May 2016

    Academic conference

    Academic conferenceOMEP EUROPEAN CONFERENCE 2016
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • Maternalism
    • History
    • Anthropology
    • Social policy
    • Mental health


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