Breast-Feeding Advocacy, Risk Society and Health Moralism: A Decade’s Scholarship

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Abstract

This article reviews research published this century that engages critically with the mantra ‘Breast is Best’ and the associated expansion of official breast-feeding promotion programmes. In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of such studies published. They mostly explore experience in English speaking, industrialised countries (the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain) which are in some social and cultural respects dissimilar, yet where very similar developments and problems are detected in regards to breast-feeding promotion. We highlight how this exploration of breast-feeding promotion internationally has developed understanding of wider sociological themes. This scholarship, we suggest, has provided a powerful illustration of the relation between risk society (more particularly a heightened consciousness of risk) and the evolution of a code of conduct that regulates behaviour, that has been termed ‘health moralizm’. The article covers three themes: ‘Science, risk society, authority and choice’; ‘Public health policy and infant feeding’; and ‘Moralization and women’s identity work’. We conclude that the research discussed shows how the sociological imagination continues to shed light on the relation between private troubles and public issues. We also suggest one conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that official discourse and everyday maternal experience appear increasingly distant from each other.

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