Internalising discourses of parenting blame: Voices from the Field


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).

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Barnes, C. & Power, M., (2012) “Internalising discourses of parenting blame: Voices from the Field”, Studies in the Maternal 4(2), 1-21. doi:


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Cliona Barnes
Martin Power



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