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Neuroparenting: The Expert Invasion of Family life

This book traces the growing influence of ‘neuroparenting’ in British policy and politics. Neuroparenting advocates claim that all parents require training, especially in how their baby’s brain develops. Taking issue with the claims that ‘the first years last forever’ and that infancy is a ‘critical period’ during which parents must strive ever harder to ‘stimulate’ their baby’s brain just to achieve normal development, the author offers a trenchant and incisive case against the experts who claim to know best and in favour of the privacy, intimacy and autonomy which makes family life worth living.

The book will be of interest to students and scholars of Sociology, Family and Intimate Life, Cultural Studies, Neuroscience, Social Policy and Child Development, as well as individuals with an interest in family policy-making.

“This book shows that there are more problems with brain-based parenting than bad neuroscience.  Jan Macvarish, analyzing the issue from a broad historico-cultural perspective, shows how the neuroparenting movement inhibits sound policy formation, impedes social justice, and threatens family privacy and parents’ rights. This is a highly significant contribution to the early childhood policy literature.”

John T. Bruer, James S. McDonnell Foundation, USA, author of “The Myth of the First Three Years”

“…a comprehensive critique of the synthesis of old-fashioned attachment theory and new-fangled neuroscience that provides the basis for the sort of intensive parent training that is now being widely implemented by midwives, health visitors, childminders and teachers in children’s centres, schools, and even GP surgeries…”

“For Macvarish, the key danger of neuroparenting is the way in which it seeks to ‘instrumentalise’ everyday family life. The shift from noun to verb – from ‘being a parent’ to active, conscious ‘parenting’ – implies replacing the private, spontaneous aspects of child-rearing with formal, artificial, goal-oriented methods.”

“Macvarish provides a systematic review of the potentially damaging consequences of unrestrained neuroparenting for family life. Parents are deprived of the authority that depends on their moral autonomy. Children are regarded fatalistically as the products of objective circumstances, as their subjective agency is also implicitly disparaged. Parents lose their true parental status and are redefined as professional caregivers. The wider community of family and neighbourhood, and other sources of informal support and guidance, are dismissed (as much too risky). To counter the drift to this dystopian future, Macvarish ends with what might seem an unlikely chapter in an academic work – ‘a defence of parental love’. But who, in the end, have parents and children got, but one another?”

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, author of “The Tyranny of Health: Doctors and the Regulation of Lifestyle.

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