Accompanying parents through early childhood
The pastoral work of Mothers’ and Fathers’ Advisors
Keywords:parenting, early childhood, pastoral power, governmentality, advising
This paper explores expert guidance of parenting in Switzerland and discusses the work of the mothers’ and fathers’ advisors (MVBs), a state-funded service providing counselling to parents of preschool children. The data presented here draws upon ethnographic research which investigates parenting as a site of ‘governance’. Based on semi-structured interviews as well as participant observation with MVBs and parents, this paper examines (power) relationships between early childhood experts and parents. The findings demonstrate that the practices deemed appropriate for the surveillance and guidance of parenting today are a clear example of what Michel Foucault dubbed ‘pastoral power’ and include the gathering and archiving of information, as well as hierarchical observation. Reconnecting insecure or overly intellectual mothers with their ‘maternal instincts’, which some advisors felt were at risk of being lost, involves the facilitation of technologies of self. The paper also explores ‘resistance’ against pastoral care, which is not necessarily perceived as well-intentioned or helpful by parents, who may strive not to implement advice or completely reject ‘accompaniment’ by advisors.
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