Critical Materialism: A window on the 21st Century

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    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
    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


    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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


    Dive into the research topics of 'Critical Materialism: A window on the 21st Century'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this