Mothering angst: nurturing the sustainable child

Elaine Ritch, Douglas Brownlie

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


    The proposed paper interrogates discourse around the ideal of the ‘sustainable’ child and related normative expectations about practices of ‘mothering’. It takes the interplay of familial consumption as its context and the greening of mothering as its subject, reflecting upon the part played by consumption practices in constructing the ideal of the ‘sustainable child’ and in generating spaces for negotiating individual positions. It discusses the findings of a study of clothing provisioning for children under conditions of ‘greening’, where everyday consumption practices of mothering are mediated by intersecting concerns for sustainability and gendered notions of security and resilience as identity work. We explore how those concerns manifest in family contexts and how they relate to identity interplay and wellbeing (Cairns et al., 2013; Epp & Price, 2008). Findings suggest that despite competing influences of habitus, children’s needs and wants were negotiated within constraints of resources and identity signalling, underpinned by the influence of sustainable messages filtering through social spheres. A notable recent development within the family and mothering literature is the emergence of green discourse and the ‘organic child’ (Aitkenson, 2014; Cairns et al., 2013). Green mothering has its origins in notions of ‘concerned parenting’ that frame how responsibility for the nurturing of children is partly realised through parental provisioning choice regarding experiences and commodities that children should be exposed to (Brusdal and Frønes, 2013). And as the paper discusses, the argument that parental provisioning choices expose children to experiences and commodities that condition outlook and conduct is an important one when extended to matters of regulating the socialising habitus, especially the inculcation of identity values such as those of ecological safety and danger.
    The paper will explore the influence of the socialising habitus of green mothering and how in seeding consumption practice it shapes family identity interplay. We argue that previous research focuses on green mothering in the context of food provisioning work (Cairns, et al 2013), identifying the symbolic marketplace resources at work within identity work. We argue that how this transfers into other consumption behaviours is under researched and offer as a comparator an analysis of clothing provisioning for children. We note that the fashion industry incurs similar allegations to the food industry in terms of overusing toxins in both fibre and garment production, exploitation of workers and over consumption leading to waste disposed to landfill. The implications of concerned parenting and green mothering indicate similar preferences extend to fashion and textiles to nurture the ideal of an ‘organic’ or ‘sustainable’ child. The study examines how sustainable concepts are interpreted by mothers who work in professional occupations as they evaluate fashion garment labels that acknowledge sustainability. From these evaluations, narratives explore the emotive positioning incurred, as mothers and children negotiate fashion from contrasting perspectives and how they nuance provisioning conduct.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2016


    • mothering
    • children's needs
    • clothing provision
    • sustainability


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