Talk labour and doing ‘being neoliberal mother’


  • Elinor Ochs University of California Los Angeles
  • Tamar Kremer-Sadlik University of California Los Angeles



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.

Author Biographies

  • Elinor Ochs, University of California Los Angeles

    Elinor Ochs is UCLA Distinguished Research Professor of Anthropology. Bridging linguistic, psychological and medical anthropology, her research considers how talk across the lifespan brings about thinking, feeling and acting in the world and how informal talk is intertwined with the political economy. Ochs has (co)authored or edited twelve books and fifty-eight journal articles and has led eighteen major research projects. Honours include MacArthur Fellow, Guggenheim Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences Member and Honorary Doctorate Linkoping University.

  • Tamar Kremer-Sadlik, University of California Los Angeles

    Tamar Kremer-Sadlik is Associate Adjunct Professor in the Anthropology Department at UCLA. Her research focuses on parenting, childhood and family life. She aims to understand the ways in which sociohistorical forces, institutional expectations, public discourses and individual interactions organise family daily practices and define what it means to be moral and a good family. Kremer-Sadlik has (co)authored or edited two volumes and twenty-five articles. Her work includes crosscultural comparative studies with colleagues in France and Italy.


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How to Cite

Ochs, E., & Kremer-Sadlik, T. (2021). Talk labour and doing ‘being neoliberal mother’. Gender and Language, 15(2), 262–276.