Talk labour and doing ‘being neoliberal mother’
Keywords:mothers, parenting, neoliberalism, talk labour, child-directed communication, doing being ordinary
This essay considers the gendered work of childrearing through Harvey Sacks’ (1992) concept of doing ‘being ordinary’. While doing ‘being ordinary’ under-girds social order, what constitutes ‘ordinary’ changes over time. Neoliberalism ushered in middle-class childrearing ideologies that encourage parents to share ever more intensive responsibilities; yet, mothers ordinarily continue to assume the lion’s portion. Central to the intensive parenting practices primarily carried out by mothers is what we call ‘talk labour’, wherein dialoguing with children as conversational partners, beginning in infancy, is constant. The ubiquity of talk makes ordinary for young children a communicative style of heightened reflexivity about their own and others’ actions, ideas and sentiments – skills conducive to becoming a successful actor in the knowledge economy. This essay ties intensification of child-directed talk, critical to ‘doing being neoliberal mother’, to social transformations in family life rooted in modernity and the Industrial Revolution.
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