The Social Politics of Breastfeeding: Norms, Situations and Policy Implications

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This paper aims to explore the assumptions concerning the dynamics of human action underpinning breastfeeding promotion campaigns in the UK. Drawing on qualitative interviews with mothers, the ways in which three problematic assumptions shape both the promotion and experience of contemporary breastfeeding promotion campaigns are explored, in the light of Joas’s theorisation of action’s creativity and pragmatism. Public health efforts to establish breastfeeding as a rational standard against which good mothering can be judged, in ways which rely on a de-contextualised understanding of human action as instrumentally rational, where bodies are imagined as pliable instruments of human intentions, are explored as they play out in the experiences of women embarking on motherhood. The paper concludes that a target-driven health-promotion policy, relying on a mechanistic account of social and emotional life, is contributing to the burden of early motherhood in ways that are not conducive to infant and maternal health and attachment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-194
Number of pages13
JournalEthics and Social Welfare
Issue number2
Early online date29 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2012


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