Contextualising risk, constructing choice: Breastfeeding and good mothering in risk society

  • Knaak S
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Abstract

The 'whats' and 'hows' of feeding babies is a key interest in the arena of public health. In recent years, this has translated into an ever-increasing emphasis on breastfeeding; namely, on trying to get more mothers to breastfeed, to breastfeed exclusively, and to breastfeed for longer. It is argued, however, that this discourse is not a benign communique´ about the relative benefits of breastfeeding, but an ideologically infused, moral discourse about what it means to be a 'good mother' in an advanced capitalist society. With the dual aim of (a) building upon existing cultural analyses of infant feeding, and (b) furthering our understanding of the construction of' 'good mothering' in risk society, this paper examines how notions of risk/benefit are taken up and used in mothers' talk about their infant feeding decisions and experiences. The findings detailed in this paper support the thesis that the authority to define and monitor 'risk' in parenting is increasingly the purview of medical-scientific discourse. The analysis further demonstrates how, within such a framework, mothers' risk consciousness vis-a-vis infant feeding is activated primarily as an issue of identity, of 'good mothering' as defined by the dominant, expert-guided, scientific-medical discourse.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Breastfeeding
  • Parenting
  • Public health
  • Risk
  • Risk communication
  • Risk perception
  • Uncertainty

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