Internalising discourses of parenting blame: Voices from the Field
Cliona Barnes is a lecturer and researcher in Sociology. Her research interests include the study of youth and gender, with a particular focus on young masculinities. She is also interested in the study of social class inequalities, community life and the processes of social regeneration. Her most recent publications appear in Teaching Sociology, Journal of Gender Studies and Young: Nordic Journal of Youth Research.
Martin J. Power is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Limerick, Ireland, where he has a specific focus on the sociology of urban regeneration. His research interests include social class, inequality and social exclusion, and Neo-liberalism and the retraction of the Welfare State. In 2011, Martin co-edited the books Morrissey: Fandom, Representations, and Identities (Intellect 2012) and Marxist Perspectives on Irish Society (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2011). In 2012 he has published papers in Critical Discourse Studies; Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism; Irish Communications Review; and Teaching Sociology.
This paper investigates the intertwining of a discourse of parental blame with the legacy of institutionalised neglect and the current roll-back of state support and services in two of Ireland's most socially marginalised and economically disadvantaged communities. In the course of fieldwork conducted to explore narratives of community safety, the authors were struck by the continual, unprompted emergence of a divisive and enduring belief that community problems could be primarily traced to 'bad parents' and 'bad parenting'. This article argues/identifies that the internalisation of a powerfully evocative discourse of blame works to absolve the state of all responsibility for the conditions in which marginalised communities are forced to live; it legitimises current and future cutbacks by portraying such communities as irresponsible and as the creators of their own problems; it distorts and distracts discussion away from necessary and critical questioning of state accountability by promoting a reductive, individualised understanding of what are complex, collective responsibilities. The internalisation of discourses of culpability operates to the benefit of the state, where 'bad' parents are understood to be 'undeserving' citizens. Finally, we argue that the ability of the state to cut back social funding and to roll back on previous commitments depends, in a large part, on the willingness of the wider community to believe that responsibility for long term social and economic marginalisation and associated problems rests, not with the state, but with 'bad' and 'undeserving' citizens (Adair 2005; Edelman 1998; Lens 2002; Welsh and Parsons 2006). Promoting that willingness is achieved through continual media and public sphere portrayals of the poor, and particularly of working class parents, as dangerously and overly fertile (Tyler 2008; Wilson and Huntington 2005), as non-contributors to prosperity and as over contributors to decline (Skeggs 2005; Morris 1994; Renvall and Vehkalahti 2002; Hayward and Yar 2006: Law 2006; Levitas 2003).