The New Maternal State: The Gendered Politics of Governing through Behaviour Change



Abstract:  Policies explicitly aimed at changing people's behaviour and recasting state–citizen relations are becoming prevalent in the UK. New political rationalities of “co-production”, “personalisation” and ‘soft” or “libertarian paternalism” seek to cultivate a relationship between the adaptive state and the active citizen which is increasingly pedagogical. Informing these new pedagogies of governing is research from behavioural economics, psychology and the neurosciences, from which policy strategists draw insights aimed at improving the effectiveness of behaviour-changing interventions across a range of policy spheres. This paper develops perspectives from feminist economics, critical psychology and feminist political theory in order to demonstrate how such research offers a gendered account of human behaviour and thus is used to assert a conversely gender-blind explanation of the legitimate role of the state in governing through behaviour change.