Teaching and Learning Guide for: Childrearing, Class and the New Politics of Parenting



This article accompanies the following article: Val Gillies, ‘Childrearing, Class and the New Politics of Parenting’, Sociology Compass 2/3 (2008): 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008.00114.x


Recent years have seen a cultural shift in the way childrearing is conceptualised and targeted by politicians and policy makers. The once-accepted notion that family relationships lay outside the remit of state intervention is being increasingly challenged. More specifically, parenting is being prioritised as a mechanism for tackling wider social ills such as crime and poverty. Analysis of political rhetoric and policy initiatives reveal a class specific focus on disadvantaged families as failing their children and society as a whole. Poor parents are viewed as reproducing a cycle of deprivation and anti-social behaviour, and are identified as needing state intervention to improve their childrearing skills. Drawing on qualitative research this paper highlights the gap between sanctioned parenting prescriptions and the lives and values of those they are directed at. As such, it encourages critical dialogue on the topics of social class, family, and public policy.

Author recommends

Gillies, Val. Marginalised Mothers: Exploring Working-class Experiences of Parenting. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

This book expands on issues discussed in the article. It explores the lived experiences of mothers who are frequently to focus of public concern and intervention, yet all too often have their voices and experiences overlooked. The book explores how they make sense of their lives with their children and families, position themselves within a context of vulnerability, and resist, subvert, and survive material and social marginalisation.

Lareau, Annette 2003. Unequal Childhoods, Class, Race and Family Life. Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press.

This book consists of a detailed and insightful ethnography of 12 American families exploring the central role that social class plays in childrearing. The book is arranged in case study chapters to reveal the class bound nature of parenting practices and values.

Lind, Craig and Keating, Heather (Eds). Children, Family Responsibilities and the State. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

This edited collection explores from a UK perspective the state regulation of parents who are considered to be failing in their responsibilities. The included essays seek to explore how rhetoric and policy create the framework in which family and parenting is lived.

Welshman, John 2006. ‘From the Cycle of Deprivation to Social Exclusion: Five Continuities.’The Political Quarterly 77: 475–84.

This article critically examines the concept of a ‘cycle of deprivation’, which suggests that poverty is passed through the generations as a result of children inheriting values and lifestyles that lock them into permanent disadvantage. The article takes an historical approach comparing UK political rhetoric from the 1970s with contemporary policy assumptions.

Reich, Jennifer A. 2008. ‘The Child Welfare System and State Intervention in Families: From Historical Patterns to Future Questions’. Sociology Compass 2: 3888–909.

The paper consists of a critical historical analysis of state intervention in family life in a US context. The paper details the structural evolutions of the child welfare system and explores the many questions it raises.

Vincent, Carol and Ball Stephen J. 2007. ‘Dispositions “Making Up” the Middle-Class Child: Families, Activities and Class’. Sociology 41: 1061.

The paper draws on qualitative research findings to demonstrate the significance that middle class parents place on after school and leisure activities for the children. The authors show how the development of particular talents and tastes assume a central role in class reproduction.

Nelson Margaret K. and Schutz, Rebecca 2007. ‘Daycare Differences and the Reproduction of Social Class’. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36: 281.

Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in two day care centers the authors demonstrate differences between centers serving different segments of the population. The authors rely on Annette Lareau's (2003) concepts of ‘concerted cultivation’ and the ‘accomplishment of natural growth’ as a way to describe these differences. The authors then reflect on the potential consequences of different styles of child care for the skills, attitudes, and orientations developed by young children.

Online materials


Parenting Culture Studies is an informal network of scholars from different countries and disciplines who are together developing a critique of contemporary parenting culture.


The Families and Social Capital Research Group is based at London South Bank University and focuses on the inter-relationship between the dynamics of family change and social resource processes. The website carries information on past and present research projects, details of publications, and downloadable working papers.


The Sloan Work and Family Research Network is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and aims to provide resources, build knowledge, and share information on the topic of work and family. It contains a range of information for academics and researchers, workplace practitioners, state public policy makers.


The Centre for Research on Families and Relationships generates and disseminates research. The website contains information on research projects, publications, and events as well as many downloadable resources.


The Child Poverty Action Group is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the United Kingdom and for a better deal for low-income families and children. They monitor official poverty statistics and carry out research, providing evidence of the shortcomings of the social security and tax credits systems in regular briefings to government ministers, MPs, and the general public. The website provides information about low-income families and the policies that affect them.


The Family and Parenting Institute was set up in 1999 by the UK Government to act as a centre of expertise on family and parenting issues and to inform policy. The website carries information on research projects and publications on parenting.


A virtual library of relevant syllabi on work and family can be accessed online at http://wfnetwork.bc.edu/template.php?name=syllabi as part of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network.

Focus questions

What is political about parenting?

How important is the concept of class in understanding parenting practices?

Can parenting be described as a ‘skill’ to be learnt?

‘Normal’ child development is presented as needing careful parenting. To what extent is this a contradiction?

What are the particular challenges facing working class parents?