Parenting : concept and praxis: a thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Monash University, Australia

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Monash University
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For most people parenting is a crucial experience. We enter the world via our parents; we learn what it is to be a child, a human being in that particular time-space-people context. We carry our parents' legacy from conception to death. The questions central to this research concern the concept and praxis of parenting. Why is parenting so important for human being? What do terms such as loving, caring, nurturing, mean? What does it mean to be a 'family', a 'mother', a 'father'? What of power in families? How do parenting relationships differ from other forms of relationship? How does parenting 'fit' in society? The task I set myself was the comprehension of parenting. I wanted to grasp as much as I could about the definitions, ideas, practices which people use in their everyday lives, and I wanted to understand these in society. The work is a theoretical one. The phenomenological method underpins the total process; the introduction, the field research, the analysis of data, the writing. Phenomenology, as I understand it, is concerned essentially with uncovering meaning. I wanted to learn the meaning of parenting praxis in society in order to develop a theory of parenting which could be used as a catalyst, and provoke questions which I believe are critical for human being. The thesis is divided into three parts. The first is the preparation or journey into the research. Time is spent on defining such basic terms as 'body', 'self', 'perception', in building an ontological and methodological framework sufficient for my needs. Portraits of the six families with whom I lived are presented in triptych form in the middle part of the thesis. I wanted, needed, to immerse myself in people's lives, not simply to visit and ask questions which they may/may not have been able or willing to answer, but I wanted to become part of their lives, albeit for a short time. Then I could hear, see, taste, feel .. what it is like to be in their family. People are revealed warts and all, and parenting shown to be complex, ambiguous, tedious, awesome In the third part of the thesis focus is on parentingin-society. C. Wright Mills' questions anchor the discussion of the history of parenting, and on parenting in Australian society. The concept and praxis of parenting is un-covered, and shown to be an ongoing social construction. I argue that the particular construction, this ordering of power, this definition and conceptualisation of parenting, is brought about by a systematic orchestration, an ordering of people's lives which inhibits full realisation of human being. The liberal democratic ideology fuels this construction, and contradictions inherent in parenting praxis are denied, deflected, dismissed by reference to this ideology.
Parenting, Australian society