14 SES 07 A, Parenthood, Parental Involvement and Parenting Competences
Critical research about the implications of neurodiscourse in relation to education (broadly understood) has already been done from philosophical perspective (see, i.a., Bruer, 1999; De Vos, 2016) and social pedagogy (see Vandenbroeck, 2017). With regard to the parent–child relationship in particular, critical accounts have been brought forward from neuro–ethical perspective (see, i.a., Hens, Cutas, and Horstkötter, 2017), psychological perspective (see, i.a., Busso & Pollack, 2015), nursing theory (see, i.a., Einboden, Rudge, & Varcoe, 2013), and, to a large extent, from sociological perspective, for instance (but not exclusively) via work of scholars of the Centre forParenting Culture Studies and the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships in the Anglosaxon context of the United Kingdom (see, i.a., Broer & Pickersgill, 2015; Edwards, Gillies, & Horsley, 2016; Macvarish, 2016). From the perspective of educational philosophy (Algemeine Pädagogik, Erziehungstheorie), which is my field of research, substantial accounts with a specific focus on the relation between parenthood and the parent–child relationship on the one hand, and neurodiscourse on the other, are missing. This paper addresses this lacuna. It reports on a case study that is being done within the continental context of Flanders (Belgium’s northern region) on the level of social policy concerning the family and parenthood.
The paper intends to contribute to our understanding of the discursive construction of “good parenthood”. The specific focus is an analysis of the extent to which the presence and circulation of results of neuroscience, in particular as they appear in social policy documents, contribute to this construction. Previous research on parenting has addressed how parenting discourse engenders an array of scientific advisory information (Ramaekers & Suissa, 2012), framing childrearing in terms of parenting tasks that demand specific knowledge and competence (see i.a., Furedi, 2002; Ramaekers & Suissa, 2012). It has also denoted that parenting discourse in recent years increasingly includes arguments stemming from neuroscience (Macvarish, 2016; Rose & Abi-Rached, 2013). Drawing on Gee’s (1999/2004) notion of “Discourse” as “a distinctive way to use language integrated with ‘other stuff’” (2004, p. 46, original emphasis), like objects and values (1999, p. 14), parenting discourse integrated with “neuro–stuff” (like images of brain scans, arguments from neuroscience, etc.) can potentially be understood as a form of “neuroDiscourse regarding parenthood”. Consequently, the question about our understanding of parenthood is equally a question of how this understanding is constructed through neuroDiscourse regarding parenthood, including textual (words) and visual (images) material.
Building on parenting discourse research, and against the background of a pedagogical view of parenthood in the intergenerational context of family life (an understanding for which is drawn on authors such as Schleiermacher (see Thoomes, 1989), Arendt (1954/2006), and Langeveld (1945/1983)), the case study critically explores two questions. It scrutinises, on the one hand, how parenthood and the parent–child relationship are understood in documents of the Flemish governmental branch office Kind & Gezin (Child & Family, my translation), in particular its digital newsletters and magazines addressing (expectant) parents. On the other hand, it analyses to what extent neuroDiscourse regarding parenthood is present in these documents and how it contributes to the construction of a particular (re)presentation of good parenthood. In line with the critique of the “scientisation of parenting” (Ramaekers & Suissa, 2012), the case study consequently addresses the question whether a discursively constructed “neuroscientisation of parenting” is becoming visible.
Earlier exploratory studies about neuroDiscourse regarding parenthood (conducted by the author) had shown that metaphor is one of the linguistic and visual tools to produce neuroDiscourse regarding parenthood. Therefore, this case’s data (e.g. Kind & Gezin’s digital newsletters and magazines addressing (expectant) parents) are analysed via the method of critical (textual and visual) metaphor analysis (CMA) (in line with authors such as Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003)). The “critical” part in this particular discourse analyses refers to the idea that discourse is “always part and parcel of, and partially constitutive of, specific social practices” (Gee, 2004, p. 33). Hence, it must also be studied in terms of its “implications for things like status, solidarity, distribution of social goods, and power” (Gee, 2004, p. 33). Critical discourse analysis, as such, includes not only a particular use of words, but also, that which is integrated in “language–in–use”, such as “deeds, symbols, images, objects, artifacts, tools, technologies, times, places, and spaces” (Gee, 2004, p. 46). The lens on metaphor in the data’s texts (textual metaphor) and images (visual metaphor) is, consequently, used as a discursive entrance to study the data at the level of discourse regarding parenthood. That way, the analysis will attempt to bring to light (1) the conceptualisations regarding parenthood that are metaphorically constructed in the study’s data, (2) what these constructions seem to convey about good parenthood, and (3) how they relate to the presence of neuroDiscourse.
Clarifying the situation concerning neuroDiscourse and parenthood at social policy level in Flanders was one of the research goals, since no literature had been found that addressed this specific continental context. Moreover, existing (sociological) literature about this topic has been reporting about Anglosaxon contexts. Based on the earlier exploratory studies, the initial premise was that the Flemish situation differs from what has been described in the Anglosaxon literature. It turns out that this premise must be nuanced. Because the case study’s analysis is still being effectuated, only some preliminary conclusions regarding the discursive construction of good parenthood and its relation to neuroDiscourse can presently be given. First, the analysis seems to point at neuroDiscourse regarding parenthood being operational in the analysed data, but operating in a different manner than that described in Anglosaxon contexts, e.g., it appears to be less immediately visible and operating less via neuromyths. Neither does it seem to take the form of instrumentalising neuroscientific research and neuromyths to effectuate a specific social policy agenda as was the case in the UK (see, i.a., Macvarish, 2016). It is, however, present and seems to, to some extent at least, inform or even invigorate parenting discourse. Second, the analysis seems to expose the assumption that parenting advice is best grounded in scientific evidence, predominantly stemming from psychological research. This suggests a confirmation of a discursively constructed scientisation of parenting (Ramaekers & Suissa, 2012) in the analysed data. Relying, however, on an evidence–based advice ideology can of course serve as a basis paving the way for the appearance of advice that shifts from being based on generic psychological research to being based on results of neuropsychological research. As such, parenting discourse and neuroDiscourse regarding parenthood seem to mutually reinforce one another with regard to constructions of good parenthood.
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