Tracey Jensen is a Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Newcastle University. Her research has examined the politics of (mis)representation and processes of cultural interpellation in parenting culture, particularly in terms of how parenting culture congeals upon categories of gender, social class and social mobility, and produces new forms of social and symbolic value. Her doctoral research critically examined the persuasive powers and reach of parent pedagogy – learning how to be 'a good parent' – and where this pedagogy manifests in popular representational forms such as makeover television, in public commentary and debates, and across a broad spectrum of government policies. This research has been published in a number of international journals, including Subjectivities, Studies in the Maternal, Radical Psychology and Feminism and Psychology. She contributed to the edited collection Standing Up To Supernanny (2009) and Being Cultural (2012), and is currently writing a book on parental pedagogy and austerity regimes. Her current work critically connects austerity culture and 'thrift' with gender, social class and the emerging science of happiness.
This paper examines the cultural politics of 'thrift' and 'tough love'. It reflects upon the significance of notions of 'good parenting' in policy and popular debates around social mobility and aspiration. In particular, it reviews the profound importance of notions of 'poor parenting' in the culturalisation of poverty, whereby poverty is seen to be a symptom of 'poor' conduct and behaviour, rather than of deeply entrenched systemic inequalities. This paper considers how the recent 'austerity' agenda has been taken up as a cultural annotation in the politicisation of parenting, (re)producing nostalgic fantasies of post-war spirit, national resilience and individual family responsibility. This article attends to how discourses of thrift and tough love are stitched together in the current cultural climate of austerity, and tracks these fantasies across a range of policy, media and cultural sites. It argues that these discourses locate the causes of the current financial crisis in spendthrift habits, consumer incompetence, over-consumption and wastefulness. It argues that thrift fantasies generate and circulate powerful cultural figurations of happy gendered restraint, such as the 'happy housewife', which serve as ideological signs of an imagined capacity for families to thrive through times of hardship. This paper maps the emerging affective incitements around austerity, gender, family and the future, in order to question the romances of austerity, and specifically of austerity parenting, and explore how austerity is being incorporated into cruelly optimistic visions of the future, which both deny existing social inequality and promise future happiness through the embrace of thrift.