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Militant Lactivism?

Militant Lactivism?: Attachment Parenting and Intensive Motherhood in the UK and France

Charlotte Faircloth
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Militant Lactivism?
    Book Description:

    Following networks of mothers in London and Paris, the author profiles the narratives of women who breastfeed their children to full term, typically a period of several years, as part of an 'attachment parenting' philosophy. These mothers talk about their decision to continue breastfeeding as 'the natural thing to do': 'evolutionarily appropriate', 'scientifically best' and 'what feels right in their hearts'. Through a theoretical focus on knowledge claims and accountability, the author frames these accounts within a wider context of 'intensive parenting', arguing that parenting practices - infant feeding in particular - have become a highly moralized affair for mothers, practices which they feel are a critical aspect of their 'identity work'. The book investigates why, how and with what implications some of these mothers describe themselves as 'militant lactivists' and reflects on wider parenting culture in the UK and France. Discussing gender, feminism and activism, this study contributes to kinship and family studies by exploring how relatedness is enacted in conjunction to constructions of the self.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-759-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Epigraph
    (pp. viii-viii)
    Ruth Benedict
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This book profiles research with women in London and Paris who are members of La Leche League (LLL), an international breastfeeding support organisation founded in 1956 in the United States to support ‘mothering through breastfeeding’. The text focuses on the accounts of a small but significant population of mothers within LLL who practise ‘attachment mothering’. Attachment parenting – now a global movement with roots in the UK and the US – endorses parent-child proximity and typically involves long-term, on-cue breastfeeding, baby ‘wearing’ (Figure 0.1), and co-sleeping. The endorsement of ‘full-term’ breastfeeding (up to eight years in the examples here, though...

  7. Part I The Context of Contemporary Mothering

    • Chapter 1 Intensive Motherhood and Identity Work
      (pp. 15-34)

      Over the past twenty years in both the US and the UK, ‘parenting’ has emerged as a concept to describe the activity that parents do when raising children (Hoffman 2003, 2008). According to Furedi (2002), the transformation of the noun ‘parent’ into a verb, ‘to parent’, is a relatively recent phenomenon. First prominent in the 1950s in language used by psychologists, sociologists and self-help practitioners, it has subsequently spread into wider usage. Its popularity, in fact, can be seen in the extent to which ‘parenting’ has become a buzzword in policy circles: in 2007, the UK government unveiled its National...

    • Chapter 2 Infant Feeding and Intensive Motherhood
      (pp. 35-56)

      This chapter explores the relationship between infant feeding, intensive mothering and maternal identity work. As a substance, breast milk ‘seeps’ – to use Carsten’s phrase¹ – between the domains of the familial (in the sense that it creates relatedness) and the biomedical (in the sense that it is an object of scientific investigation). The chapter therefore opens by briefly outlining the physiological processes of breastfeeding before turning to consider recent policy directives and demographic patterns of infant feeding. Women in the perinatal period can expect to hear a strong ‘breast is best’ message from a range of governmental and nongovernmental agencies, although...

  8. Part II La Leche League

    • Chapter 3 Contextualising ‘Full-Term’ Breastfeeding
      (pp. 59-80)

      By 1956 in the United States, the rate of breastfeeding initiation amongst new mothers had dropped to an all-time low of 20 per cent (Cahill 2001). At a picnic of the lay Catholic Christian Family Movement in the Chicago suburbs that same year, two mothers nursed their babies under the shade of a tree, lamenting this fact. On hearing passing women comment that they wished they had been able to nurse their own babies, the two resolved, with five other mothers, to found La Leche League to support women who wanted to breastfeed (see Ward 2000 for a fuller look...

    • Chapter 4 La Leche League: Philosophy and Community
      (pp. 81-100)

      I’m in a suburb of London, lost and late. I consult my map. After getting my bearings and walking from the bus stop for what seems like hours, I finally arrive at my destination: a semi-detached house with a small garden at the front.

      I ring the bell, thirty-five minutes after the scheduled meeting time. A woman comes to the door. ‘Charlotte?’ ‘Hello,’ I say, ‘you must be Janet?’ She ushers me in, waving away my apologies for being so late. ‘The first thing you have to realise,’ she says, ‘is that there is no such thing as being late...

    • Chapter 5 ‘Finding My Tribe’
      (pp. 101-116)

      For Douglas, ‘[n]ot just any busload or haphazard crowd of people deserves the name of society: there has to be some thinking and feeling alike among members’ (Douglas 1986: 4). What is needed, she argues, is a shared symbolic universe – a social basis of cognition. This chapter outlines the ways in which the attachment mothers I worked with came to be involved with La Leche League and explores the processes by which social groups are formulated and maintained through shared values and practices. The argument is that ‘norms’ within the group can have a coercive effect with respect to behaviour,...

  9. Part III Accounting for Full-Term Breastfeeding

    • Chapter 6 ‘It’s Natural’: Some Cultural Contradictions
      (pp. 119-143)

      Breastfeeding to full term – anything between one and eight years in this study, though more typically for three or four years – is considered by attachment mothers to be part of a ‘natural’ trajectory, doing justice to a hominid blueprint for behaviour. The blueprint is derived from archaeological and anthropological evidence of humans as primates, in some cases through historical studies of our evolutionary past, and in others through recourse to contemporary primates or ‘primitive’ peoples who are understood to represent that past today.

      Yet being natural is a profoundly cultural process (Strathern 1992b), especially where women following the LLL philosophy...

    • Chapter 7 ‘What Science Says Is Best’: Science as Dogma
      (pp. 144-161)

      When women told me that what they were doing was ‘most natural’, they did not mean they were blindly following the examples of ‘primitives’ or primates. They alsoknewthat what they were doing was best for their children because ‘science’ tells them it is healthiest. Science ‘reveals’ nature (Jordanova 1986: 29). There is an informed reflexivity to the predetermined ‘natural’ pattern that women follow.

      Attachment mothers use the term ‘science’ to refer to evidence derived from physiological and psychological studies concerning developmental and health benefits of full-term breastfeeding and attachment parenting. The intention here is to unpack the saliency...

    • Chapter 8 ‘What Feels Right in My Heart’: Hormones, Morality and Affective Breastfeeding
      (pp. 162-182)

      Throughout this research, it has been a struggle to write about what, for many women, is the most important accountability strategy in their narratives of full-term breastfeeding: say what you like about nature and science, this simply ‘feels right’. Writing about the intimate, affective dimension of breastfeeding has been particularly diffi cult because many women found their feelings, especially about breastfeeding their older children, hard to verbalise – as something almostbeyondexpression. Many said simply, ‘You just know it’s the right thing to do. You’ll know too when you have children of your own’ (Virginia).

      This, of course, poses problems...

  10. Part IV Contextualising Intensive Motherhood

    • Chapter 9 Mothering as Identity Work in Comparative Perspective: The Case of France
      (pp. 185-213)

      Having considered women’s accountability strategies, the analysis turns back more strictly to the question of maternal subjectivity – specifically looking again at how relatedness is envisaged in conjunction with notions of the self. This chapter presents some accounts of this subjectivity from attachment mothers in London before turning to data from fieldwork in Paris. These data provide a contrast to the UK analysis, clarifying culture-specific issues around mothering and identity work. The argument is that the merged mother-infant self witnessed amongst the attachment mothers in the UK is an intensifi cation of a more generalised intensive parenting culture, which encourages absorbed...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 214-221)

    For the anthropologist, it is always interesting when ‘nature’ is mobilised in defence of social practices – whether in the realm of parenting practices or elsewhere. Just as interesting, perhaps, is when ‘culture’ becomes a social object. What happens when mainstream ‘culture’ is something one’s informants reject in the creation of ‘natural’ countercultures? By way of conclusion, some of these issues are considered.

    Through an anthropological engagement with practices of relatedness as critical elements of self-making, it has been argued that ‘parenting’, as a social activity, needs to be distinguished from the general business of raising children. Mothers (today, in the...

  12. Appendix 1. Short Term and Long Term Health Benefits of Breast Feeding for the Child and Mother in Developed Countries
    (pp. 222-228)
  13. Appendix 2. Summary of Demographic Results from Questionnaire Responses
    (pp. 229-230)
  14. References
    (pp. 231-249)
  15. Index
    (pp. 250-266)