Volume Nine, Issue 2
Virtually Experts: Exploring
constructions of mothers’ advice-seeking
in online parenting communities
& Lisa Lazard*
Within contemporary western cultures, parenting advice resources have
become increasingly accessible through a range of media such as
television programmes, books/magazines, and more recently internet
websites. The content and delivery of expertise to parents has shifted
historically in various ways from more health-focused prescriptive
advice to discourses of partnership in which advice is couched as
helpful suggestions (Alldred, 1999).
However, predominant constructions
within expert parenting advice position specialist knowledge as central
to ‘successful’ parenting , ‘good’ developmental outcomes, and
positions the ‘good’ parent as one who disavows other forms of
knowledge, such as that acquired through experience, in favour of
professional expertise (Marshall, 1991;
Marshall and Woollett, 2000;
2000; Murphy, 2003). Given this,
Dolev and Zeedyk (2006) argue
that parents become implicitly
constituted as dependent on experts. Despite a broader increase of
critical interrogation of such expert knowledges in popular arenas,
Alldred (1999) argues that the status of
expert knowledges is still
highly valued. The authority accorded to such knowledges may render
them difficult to contest and position parental/alternative knowledges
as problematic and/or pathological (Alldred,
While both mothers and fathers become regulated in and through expert
discourses, greater emphasis is placed on mothers for ‘good’
child-development outcomes and, as such, they become centrally located
as targets of expert knowledges/interventions (Alldred, 1999; Marshall
and Woollett, 2000; Lewis, 2002). For
example, despite the use of the
gender-neutral term ‘parenting’ in most advice resources, mothers are
primarily positioned as the main caregiver in the current cultural
context (Riggs, 2005; Equal Opportunities
Commission, 2005). Given
this, mothers are perhaps unsurprising constituted as majority
readership of parenting advice (e.g. Rashely,
2005; Green and Groves,
2008; Plantin and
The privileged positioning of expert knowledges on parenting does not
render mothers as always-already passive in relation to it. More
recently, web-based advice resources have been argued to represent an
arena in which mothers’ can and do enact various resistances to expert
knowledges. For example, Madge
and O’Connor (2006) suggest the
increased availability of online specialist advice/information provides
a tool with which traditional modes of expert power can be contested
and resisted. In addition to this, the formation of on-line parenting
forums and communities has been conceptualised as opening up space for
mothers to actively determine what counts in the production of
parenting knowledges within their on-line communities (Blair and
On-line parenting communities may also provide spaces for mothers to
trouble and/or evade romanticised constructions of motherhood that are
predominant in the current cultural context more generally and in
expert child-raising advice specifically. For example, Madge and
O’Connor (2006) argue that informal exchanges coupled with
cyberspace can afford mothers transient breaks from idealised mothering
positionings, from disparities between ideals and lived realities of
parenting and from feelings of inadequacy produced from such
disparities. The web has thus been treated by some scholars as a
potential key site for disrupting idealised versions of particular
identities, including motherhood, through the ways in which disembodied
identities are ‘performatively’ (see Butler,
1990; Butler, 1993)
(re)produced in cyberspace (e.g. Hardey, 2002).
Broadly speaking, some researchers have suggested that the absence of
the material body in digital arenas creates opportunities for greater
mobility of identities, allowing people more freedom to move in and out
of identifications and play out multiple selves (e.g. Turkle, 1996;
Plant, 2000). However, others caution against utopian images
cyberspace, arguing that virtual identities and relationships are not
separable from the complex web of sameness and difference (and
inequalities therein) in which we become located and embedded within
non-virtual social realities (Fay, 2008).
Virtual lives inevitably
become framed and shaped by the socially and culturally situated
identities and experiences of non-virtual selves (Madge and O’Connor,
2005; Madge and O'Connor,
2006). This is not to say that transgression is not possible in
the process of playing out multiple identities in cyberspace but rather
the significance of disembodiment has been, on occasion, overstated.
In this study, we explored the ways in which online advice and support
seeking were constructed in mothers’ accounts of their use of web-based
parenting forums. Given the significance paid to expert advice in the
current cultural context, we were particularly interested in how women
negotiated their engagement with informal advice/support and the ways
in which such advice-seeking impacted mothering identities.
The Research Process
To elicit mothers’ accounts of using parenting forums, online
semi-structured interviews were conducted. We recruited participants
via web-based parenting forums. Initially, this process involved making
contact with forum administrators of various parenting websites who
were provided with an outline and aims of the project. Forum
administrators were then asked for their permission to display
participant recruitment posters on their websites.
Although the poster was placed on three parenting websites, only
members from one UK site responded. This is possibly because this
particular site appeared to be associated with a high amount of web
traffic which maximized the possibility that the participant
advertisement would be seen by a greater number of forum users.
Initially, eleven mothers expressed an interest in taking part.
However, six of the participants withdrew before the interview was
arranged because of time constraints and family commitments. It should
be noted that participant recruitment took place during December to mid
January. It is not unreasonable to assume that the timing of
recruitment may have impacted the response rates as some mothers that
made contact noted that this was a particularly busy time for them.
Of the remaining five mothers who agreed to take part, one described
herself as a single mother whereas the others positioned their
relationships as long-term. All participants identified themselves as
heterosexual and had between two and five children. Participants only
described themselves in terms of gender and sexuality. Other points of
sameness and difference (for example, ‘race’) were not raised by
Once participants had expressed an interest in participation via email
they were then given a written explanation of the project. This
included a description of ethical rights (as outlined in the British
Psychological Society’s ethics guidelines for research) and how the
data would be used, a copy of the interview agenda and a consent form.
This information was sent by email and by post with a stamped addressed
envelope to allow participants to sign and return consent forms. It
should be noted that there is a growing body of work which explores how
the use of online methodologies can present ethical issues that are
unique to this kind of research (Brownlow and O’Dell, 2002).
example, the use of particular information in the public domain as
research data, such as web discussion boards, has raised concerns
around whether informed consent can be or has been sought (Brownlow and
O’Dell, 2002). Such debates informed our decision to focus on
generated in online interviews rather than on information displayed and
created within parenting forums.
Online Interviewing: Processes and
Semi-structured interviews were all conducted electronically using MSN,
a synchronous form of computer-mediated-communication which allows
‘chat’ to occur in real time. Mann
and Stewart (2000) suggest that
this can give the interview a more conversational feel as the programme
does not produce long delays between messages which provided a sense of
flow between interviewer-interviewee responses. MSN also allows the use
of emoticons to textually represent sounds and feeling which can help
set a “relational tone” to the interview (Mann and Stewart, 2000, p.15; see
also Mann and Stewart, 2003).
Interviews conducted lasted
between approximately 50 and 150 minutes. Whilst on-line interviews do
not require the use of transcription systems commonly used for oral
discursive data, we did want to maximise the readability of
transcripts. For this reason, we used conventional forms of punctuation
when preparing the transcripts for analysis (see also Bucholtz, 2000).
Important to note, we make no claims that online interviewing is
an identical process to face-to-face techniques. For example, Davis et
al (2004) raise specific problems with computer-
that impact online interviewing. More specifically, they argue that
online interviews tend to generate briefer responses to questions
compared to face-to-face interviews because answers are mediated and
shaped by the processes of reading and typing skills of conversant.
Davis et al (2004) also
point to how online interaction can be fraught with
ambiguity which impacts turn-taking and makes difficult the use of
wordplay, metaphor and jokes. This may raise questions about the
richness of data produced in online interview studies. However, other
researchers suggest that the quality of data produced in online
interviews is very much dependent on “who is being interviewed, who the
interviewers are, and how skilful they are in online interviewing”
(Meho, 2006, p.1291) and so, in this
respect, do not differ substantially
from issues around data production in face-to-face interviews.
In this study, both the researcher conducting the interviews and the
participants were reasonably practiced with technologies used. Even so,
electronic conversations were marked by far more moments of asynchrony
than would perhaps be experienced in face-to-face interactions. We did
not, however, experience this as a ‘problem’ in this research, rather
we conceptualised web-based interviewing as maintaining a connection
between the methodology and the topic area, embedding relations between
the researcher and participant and subsequently the data collected
within the digital arena (see, for example, Seymour,
2001 for further
The following reading of the data is broadly framed by
both theoretical and political ideas derived from feminist
is specifically informed by Foucauldian discourse analysis as described
by Parker (2005). For Foucault (1969), discourses are
systematically form the objects of which we speak” (p. 49). Discourses
are thus conceptualised as a social practice which (re)produce the
objects to which they refer in multiple, often contradictory ways.
Important to note is that discourses are neither fixed nor universal.
Rather they become manifest, take shape and are framed by the different
historical and cultural contexts in which they emerge. Given this,
discourses are not the product of ‘individual’ activity as such but
rather constitute and (re)produce an “array of subject positions”
(Parker, 1994, p. 245), which when taken
up, shape and constrain,
enable and disable, ways of being in the social world (e.g. Parker,
Subject positionings as well as the discourses they are situated in,
differ in terms of access to power that they can offer. Central to
analysis of power from Foucauldian perspectives are the ways in which
norms work to regulate “the web of everyday existence” (Foucault, 1979,
p 183) – referred to by Foucault (1979)
as a form of disciplinary
power. The workings of disciplinary power highlight the ways in which
power is not only negative, that is, hierarchical and repressive but
also positive in the sense that it produces and constitutes objects and
subject positionings. The analysis of the operation of power from this
perspective centres on the ways material power can be exercised in and
through discourses as well as the ways in which relations of power are
produced and constituted in and by discursive constructions.
The ways in which Foucauldian-informed discourse analysis lends itself
to exploring the productive effect of discourses in the context of
power relations and resistance was deemed particularly suited to
examine heterosexualised and gendered power relationships in the
constitution of mothering more generally and advice seeking in
particular. This is not to claim that other forms of discourse analysis
cannot or do not explicate power relations. Rather, theoretical
insights of Foucault’s work shift analytic focus to the connections
between constructions identified [and subject positions therein] and
social and cultural practices using notions of disciplinary power which
we have found useful in articulating particular power dynamics in
mother’s accounts of parenting advice.
This section focuses on three constructions identified: (1)
professional vs. personal expertise; (2) good mother identities; and
(3) empowered mothering communities. This reading will unpack the ways
in which notions of experiential knowledges are deployed to produce
mothers as doing ‘best’ for their children. We focus on the ways in
which experiential learning displaces professional expertise by appeals
to the value of lived mothering experience. We also draw attention to
the ways in which constructions of women as the primary bearers of
child-care experience are used to (re)inscribe the home and family as a
feminine preserve. Whilst there were a number of examples of these
constructions in the data set, for the purposes of this paper we have
selected those which are the most illustrative of these points.
Professional Vs Personal Expertise
Across accounts, mothers’ first experiences of using on-line parenting
forums were intimately bound up with and prompted by personal
circumstances concerning challenging child-raising issues. Importantly,
issues experienced were often implicitly characterised as a ‘deviation’
from the trajectory of ‘normalised’ child development and/or
parent-child relationships. This can be seen in the following
was looking for info and advice on my sons' behaviour and
problems...with my eldest it was for his ADHD & dyspraxia
and visually impaired, wee one is 9 and ASD ….
Autistic Spectrum Disorder... and just huge amounts of ongoing
difficulties with both kids.
at the time and I wanted help on contact
with birth parents - our three are adopted…so it was adoption contact
issues that got me looking on the net for help
Here, the internet is constituted as an aid for mothers to negotiate
difficult parenting issues. The web becomes positioned as a conduit for
additional support for parents and concomitantly children (Madge and
O’Connor, 2006). There was a clear sense within accounts that
such information, advice and support were either unavailable in their
off-line lives or somehow fell short of what mothers’ needed to manage
specific difficulties experienced (e.g. Wodehouse and McGill, 2009).
This issue is explicitly addressed in Carla’s account when she
discusses some of the hurdles she has experienced in getting specialist
support for her child who she suspected had autistic spectrum disorder:
C: I’ve spent 4 years trying to get a
diagnosis for [her son] -
my wee one …cos ASD can come across as just being a brat - just cos
they don’t have social skills and don’t cope in school. So I often got
calls from the school going “come get him” - we can’t cope…when his
nursery teacher advised me to get a referral to the psych service they
put it down to his dad leaving…then the psych said it was that - plus
me paying too much attention to his older brother cos of his
disability… so with all that it took me 4 yrs to get them to take HIS
difficulties seriously. Eventually they took him - full time - into a
CAHMS …. They said he needs physio, play therapy, social skills support
and psych support and since the diagnosis in May - none of it has come
The process of seeking specialist support is constituted in terms of
struggle, revealing tensions between expert knowledge and mothers’
experiences. This tension is played out through the privileging of
expert specialism over mother’s knowledge by service providers, which
manifests here in the process of diagnosis.
When Carla speaks from her position as mother, her voice becomes
subsumed by specialist knowledge about childhood problems and becomes
further undermined in expert discourses through the location of parents
as the ‘root problem’ (Dolev and
Zeedyk, 2006). A ‘broken home’
discourse is drawn on to position Carla’s familial relationships as a
‘deviation’ from the normative nuclear family unit and it is this
‘deviation’ that becomes primarily responsible for ‘poor’ developmental
outcomes. Carla’s mothering practices are explicitly problematised
through the notion of differential parental treatment of children.
Carla becomes positioned as, at least partially, accountable for her
son’s challenging behaviour.
Carla is not, however, passive in her relationship to expert knowledge.
Rather, she is positioned as resistant and through this becomes
depicted as a mother who will fight against authority to do what is
best for her child. In this account, expert knowledge is undermined by
the depiction of child-professionals/experts misunderstanding the
nature of the problem and unable to ‘cope’ experientially with
children’s challenging behaviour. Overall, there is a sense of
dislocation of expert knowledge from the context and experience of
parenting. This sense of dislocation is illustrated further in Louise’s
description of seeking advice on developing relationships with the
birth parents of her adopted children:
support from social services I really wanted
to know how others managed the contact
Unlike Carla, Louise describes her experience of professional support
as positive. However, for Louise it appears that this “good support
from social services” fell short. It is implied that what is missing
from specialist support is shared experience of the issue. For Louise,
it is practical advice that appears to be absent. Across accounts,
mothers flagged up the importance of shared understanding embedded in
practical experience as central to being helped and being of help. This
can be seen in Steph’s discussion of help given to other mothers by
other on-line forum users:
A lot of the members have been through so much, so there is
always someone who can help you if you need it ... I think it’s harder
to help if you haven’t been there.
Lived experience of parenting issues is constructed as foundational to
helping others and becomes the basis on which members are positioned as
having a special understanding of particular parenting issues and
empathy with other users (Madge
and O’Connor, 2005). Thus, the notion
of experience becomes a means of validating the importance of
knowledge, advice and support (re)produced within on-line communities
(Pitts, 2004). This may also work to
position professional expertise/support as questionable and/or lacking
if it is not rooted in shared
understanding of lived realities.
Mothers were constituted as the primary bearers of personal expertise
on child-raising. Discussion of men or fathers was limited across the
interviews. Indeed, when mentioned, men/fathers were only given brief
reference. For example, when asked what kind of issues was discussed in
parenting forums, Steph replied:
stuff... Kids, hubbys, life, etc etc.
Here, men become constituted as a topic of conversation rather than
active participators in parenting discussions. This implies that women
constitute the primary users of parenting forums as well as primary
carers of children. This is consistent with claims that mothers
constitute the majority of users of parenting forums (e.g. Madge and
O’Connor, 2005; Plantin
and Daneback, 2009). This construction of
mothers was also (re)inscribed through an absence of discussion of how
men participated in their children’s lives and in their daily care. The
importance assigned to experience serves to position mothers rather
than fathers as ‘true’ experts on child-raising. Thus, through ‘doing’,
mothers can stake claim to making best provision for their child(ren)
which serves as a basis to challenge professional expertise and
regulation (Alldred, 1996).
‘Good’ Mother Identities
Notions of mothers as primary carers of children were (re)produced in
and through women’s self-descriptions throughout the interviews.
Representations of these mothers were saturated with notions of
normative femininity which bolstered idealised concomitant identities
of ‘good’ mother, ‘good’ woman (Phoenix
internet usage was constructed primarily as a tool to aid child-care
and other various domestic roles. For example, in Kelly’s description
of web use she says:
use the gardening sections [of online forums], the special needs
sections, education/schooling sections and love all the shopping tips
Kelly’s description of her use of the web is focused on her home and
children which serves to locate her firmly in the private, domestic
sphere with her daily activities and interests constituted as primarily
revolving around her family’s needs. Similarly, Steph’s off-line
hobbies are focused on the family/home:
with the kids and husband
The description is the image of idealised family life which draws on
traditional notions of the heterosexualised nuclear family unit. Steph
is depicted as a good mother in this image through her location in this
family unit and active participation in it. For Madge and O’Connor
(2005), on-line anonymity may afford mothers a means with which to
gloss over tensions and difficulties in their everyday experiences of
parenting and present a more idealised version of motherhood and
mothering identity. In doing so, mothers may gain some temporary relief
from “the restrictive moralities of motherhood within the (apparent)
safety of a female dominated community” (Madge and O’Connor, 2005, P.
Not all the women interviewed were positioned within traditional
nuclear family constructions. For example, Carla described herself as a
single parent whose partner “left 5 years ago”. In Carla’s account, the
experience of being a single parent of two disabled children is
constituted through images of struggle and hardship. Her single parent
status is constructed as a ‘deviation’ from normative nuclear family
structures which can be seen in her comment that where she lives “is
all 2.4 children, married couples - kinda stepford wives”. However, she
negotiates her outsider status through the portrayal of these other
women as “stepford wives” which frames them as hyper-feminine, an
extreme, and thus not ‘normal’. Carla’s identity as ‘normal’ serves to
(re)position her as a ‘good’ mother that is doing her best. This can be
seen further in the following excerpt in which Carla positions both
herself and other users of parenting forums as ‘normal’:
class - organised - stepford wives - never seem
- on the surface - to have any problems and the druggie - alcoholic -
unemployed - single parents - u don’t want to get involved with but
[Name of website] has normal ppl [people] but with problems.
A ‘good’ mother identity is constituted here through comparison to two
“abnormal” extremes – the hyper-feminine mother who is rendered
problematic through her ‘perfection’ and the ‘bad’ mother – who is
positioned as unfulfilling of the ‘good’ mother role by virtue of their
addictions and circumstances (Klee, 2002).
Users of parenting forums
become constituted as ‘good’ mothers through their normality.
Interestingly here, the notion of ‘normal’ parenting as difficult can
be seen to disrupt romanticised ideals of motherhood with cyberspace
positioned as almost a haven from extremes of both idealised and
‘imperfect’ versions of motherhood – a place in which her marginalised
status in her non-virtual social circumstances becomes normalised. In
the following excerpt, users of parenting website are further
positioned as ‘good’ through the act of using on-line technology to
seek parenting advice:
someone cares enough to ask for help with their kids - they are
probably doing the best they can to be a good parent to their kids….
just trying to do their best.
Discourses of motherhood as ‘natural’ predominantly position mothers as
‘instinctively’ knowing what’s best. Within such naturalised
discourses, the unknowing mother could be seen as falling short of
‘good’ mothering (Lewis, 2002). However,
within Carla’s account, the
seeking of on-line help/advice is positioned as an act of ‘good’
mothering because it is treated as evidence of doing best for her
child(ren) – a prerequisite of being a ‘good’ mother within idealised
versions of motherhood (Lewis, 2002).
Online help/advice discussion
threads were predominantly constituted as an exercise in
confidence-building rather than as a process of learning completely
‘new’ parenting practices:
me the confidence to believe that I am a
good mum…whereas even a couple of months ago I was pretty down on
myself for that…just the reassurance that you are doing the right thing
On-line support is constructed as allowing Carla to see herself
differently – as a good mother. What is important here is that Carla is
portrayed as always having been a good mother; it was her perception
rather than her practices that were the ‘problem’. This is not only
illustrated in the implicit location of her mothering practices as
already ‘good’ but also in the reflective consideration she gives to
her current practices through the act of asking for advice/support.
Alldred (1999) notes a shift from
seeking prescriptive advice to
reassurance and partnership between parents and child-experts around
the 1970s. However, as mentioned earlier, this ‘partnership’ retained
notions of expert privileged knowledge and authority (Alldred, 1999;
Dolev and Zeedyk, 2006). What
is interesting in the above excerpt is
that reassurance is not sought from professional experts but other
forum users which may function to allow mothers to by-pass (at least
partially) engagement with and negotiation of expert power relations.
Empowered Mothering Communities:
Seeking advice and support on-line was described as facilitated by
relationship practices established in particular forums. More
specifically, parenting forums were constructed as a site in which
democratic relationships were played out. This can be seen in Louise’s
account where she says:
sense of community - and there are disagreements,
sometimes fall outs, but once the topics ended everyone just gets on
with it again no grudges - that’s amazing really.
Webbed through this description of on-line forums is a neo-liberal
discourse which emphasises freedom of expression. Whilst it is
recognised that the diversity of expressions produce “disagreements”,
the tacit agreement of “no grudges” between users underscores the
importance placed on individual opinion. The implicit construction of
speaking rights in this account appears to function as an equaliser of
power relations between users in the online community. The possibility
for holding “grudges” is further mitigated by the de-emotionalisation
and depersonalisation of forum debates. This depersonalisation appears
to be achieved through the significance placed on liberalised notions
of valuing the collective, communal ways of being within forums.
The act of sharing advice and information appears to be firmly embedded
within constructions of forums as collective and relational. There is a
clear sense of this in Louise’s interview in which she begins by
discussing information gathering by forum users on behalf of a pregnant
mother of a toddler that had been stranded in another country due to a
split with her husband:
was good and is prevalent all over the site was
the information gathering for her on benefits, housing etc - you feel
empowered when someone can tell you what you need to fight something.
We are looking at a statutory assessment for the small right now,
it’s hard but I feel confident as there are people who really know
their stuff on site
Seeking information is constructed as markedly different from
traditional notions of expert/novice hierarchical relationships. There
is a clear sense of ‘novice’ forum users as active – not only in
seeking out information – but using it to “fight” for shared,
collective causes. The use of the word fight is particularly powerful
and further underscores the actigve participatory role that seekers of
knowledge have in its use. Although forum users are differentiated in
that “there are [some] people who really know their stuff” this is not
represented as a problem in terms of unequal divisions of power.
Instead, Louise describes information sharing as “empowering” by
enabling challenges to be made by those who perhaps would be limited in
the action they could take without such resources. It seems that this
empowered sense of information sharing is underpinned by the implicit
rules of engagement within forums, that is, democratic, collective and
egalitarian. This can be seen in the use of “we” in Louise’s
description of information seeking on statutory assessment.
Notably, the ‘fight’ in Louise’s description revolves around doing what
is best for mothers and children. This can be seen in the reference to
helping the stranded mother mentioned earlier and the forum member’s
current work on statutory assessment which is concerned with additional
resources for children with special educational needs that are not met
by current school resources. Thus it seems that more politicised action
taken by forum users is explained through reference to their mother
identity (Capdevila, 2000) – political
action here is constructed as a
means of mothers’ doing best by their children. Doing ‘best’ as mothers
thus becomes constructed as a complex set of actions which transcend
dichotomous representations of the private and public sphere by
shifting between broader and more localised child-raising issues. While
this construction of political/mothering identities is not new (see,
for example, Capdevila, 2000), it
could be seen as a challenge to more
traditional representations of the idealised mother as primarily
located in the private sphere. Indeed, the use of virtual communities
to accomplish political actions means that mothers can simultaneously
be located as in both the ‘public’ and ‘private’ which, as Youngs
(2004) points out, arguably troubles delimited notions of and
Complex Constructions: Summary
As mentioned earlier, the playing out of identities in cyberspace has
been conceptualised in some work as (re)producing distinctions between
embodied and disembodied selves with the latter attributed more freedom
to take up multiple identities. However in a similar vein to Madge and
O’Connor (2005), it seems that within the above accounts, mothers’
self-descriptions of their identities in virtual spaces were
constituted as grounded in non-virtual contexts and subject
positionings. There was a sense across accounts that these mothers
were, in various ways, marginalised in particular non-virtual contexts
because their experience of parenting was predominantly positioned as
non-normative. Thus, web-based parenting forums became constructed as a
place of inclusion for mothers who experienced various forms of
marginalisation in their non-virtual lives.
We do not wish to idealise or oversimplify constructions of parenting
web forums through notions of inclusivity or egalitarianism. The
negotiation of competing and contradictory discourses of motherhood in
these accounts also pointed to the complex ways in which cyber
exchanges and identities can reinscribe an array of problematic power
relations that mothers become variously located in. For example, the
location of mothers as primary carers for children worked in various
ways to (re)produce the heterosexualisation of parenting and gendered
division of labour which may serve to (re)produce traditional
representations of the ‘good’ mother as well as marginalise parents who
do not ‘fit’ into traditionalised family structures (McMahon, 1995;
Phoenix and Woollett, 1991;
MacLeod, 2001; Tasker,
importantly, parenting communities seemed to offer a space to contest
problematic power relations by, for example, disrupting notions of
parental dependency on expert knowledges (Dolev and Zeedyk, 2006). It
did so by calling into question the foundations on which expert advice
is based, validating experiential knowledges and providing a route to
advice and support which could be used to by-pass to some extent expert
power relations. Importantly, the privileging of experiential knowledge
in negotiating parenting issues locates and embeds motherhood firmly
within the realms of the social contexts in which they emerge. Thus,
the importance placed on lived experience of parenting may work to
destabilise romanticised ideals of mothering (re)produced more broadly
in the current cultural context and more specifically in predominant
constructions of expert advice.
We would like to acknowledge and thank Jane Callaghan for her helpful
comments on a draft of this paper
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Sam Mungham completed this study for her undergraduate dissertation at
the University of Northampton, UK. Sam is currently pursuing
postgraduate study in the area of teaching and learning. Her interests
focus on pedagogical issues, constructions of care, gender, identity
and qualitative methodologies.
Lisa Lazard is a senior Lecturer at the University of Northampton, UK.
Her main research interests focus on gender, sexualities, gendered
violence (particularly sexual harassment), discriminations and
exclusions, motherhood and parenting, identities, feminism and