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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

Parenting cultures and risk management in plural Norway

Alternative title: Foreldrekulturer og risikohåndtering i det mangfoldige Norge

Awarded: NOK 8.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2014 - 2018


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Norwegian society is becoming increasingly globalized and multicultural, and class differences are growing. In consequence, new parenting norms, ideologies and practices are emerging, contributing to a diversity of ideals connected to parenting today. International research state that white middle-class norms dominate public understanding of good parenting. By studying parenting in a socially and ethnically mixed urban area in Bergen, the researcher team investigated social, economic and cultural processes shaping parenting cultures today. The study, based on qualitative methods, is interdisciplinary with researchers from Cultural Studies, Social Anthropology and Sociology. The project outcomes provide knowledge about how parenting ideals and practices are created and altered in different institutions, homes and neighborhoods, and in interplay between schools and the welfare-state. The study focused on inclusion and exclusion mechanisms sometimes experienced and other times produced by parents and raised fundamental questions about how we can live together in todays society. One theme was what kind of responsibility parents take for their own children, other people`s children and the local community and what kind of communities they seek to shape as parents. Another theme was which norms and ideals parents encounter through welfare-state institutions and how these are perceived by the parents. The research project understood contemporary parenting cultures in light of theories concerning risk society. Ideas of risk permeate todays society and carries an understanding that rather than considering danger as an inevitable part of life, institutions and individuals should actively work to avoid risk. Growing professionalism and intensification of parenting both internationally and in Norway position parents as responsible actors for their children`s wellbeing and development socially, intellectually and socially. Such responsibilization of parenting contributes to parental determinism; the idea that what parents do here and now will have important consequences for the child`s future. This encourage the enactment of intensive parenting and institutional focus on how to minimize unwanted parenting practices. Schools promoted intensive parenting in different meetings with parents encouraging them to follow-up closely children`s schooling and social life. These expectations were met in diverse ways by the parents, partly shaped by their class- and migration background. While pursuing parental engagement by the school is presented as a way to minimize risk for drop outs, low pupil outcomes and low integration, it simultaneously risks increasing social and economic inequality. The project found that some parents aimed at including other people`s children in school activities and neighborhoods, in their everyday life and in different activities, based on ideals of equality and social inclusion. They aimed to create good living conditions for their own and other children by keeping the cost of leisure activities low and trying to ensure that cultural and religious differences should not prevent children`s participation in school related and leisure time activities. Children`s birthday parties have become symbols of whether children or their parents are integrated in the Norwegian society. In the organizing of birthday parties, attention was tuned towards inclusion and exclusion, sameness and difference. Many parents tried to ensure that the organization of the party was inclusive, seeking to create a meeting between what they consider as different children. At the same time, it was considered as problematic if someone did not follow the tacit norms of how to celebrate children`s birthdays. The project also studied parenting support as an offer provided through Well Child Clinics or other public institutions. It was found that it is not a universal offer, though proclaimed as such. Parenting support is first of all provided for parents who are unemployed or have immigration background. The aim of the intervention is to promote positive interaction and attentive, intensive parenting. Research on parenting support in Norway is dominated by health-experts` perspectives where parenting support is seen as a measure to promote children`s development. However, social scientists (international debate), have criticized this view, and argue that the aim of parenting support is to make parents take a larger responsibility for raising proper citizens in times when public resources and collective solidarity are under pressure. Findings from this project indicate that many parents appreciated participating in parenting support interventions, for different reasons. Some parents perceived it as a confirmation of their own norms, while many parents with an immigration background described it as an introduction to Norwegian society`s rules and an opportunity to know expectations from the Norwegian society.


As a result of ongoing global, economic, social, cultural and political processes, new parenting norms, ideologies and practises are emerging. Migration and increased class differences bring along differentiations in access to resources and highlight the co-existence of different ideas of parenting in the same living place. Governmental practices towards parents, however, may remain largely oriented towards white middle-class perceptions of the 'good parent'. With a comparative approach this project aims to investigate how parenting cultures are formed by parents' different ideas of how to be a 'good parent' and how such parenting cultures are formed in different institutional settings. Are different parents concerned with different risks? Researchers fr om Cultural Studies and Social Anthropology will collaborate in this interdisciplinary project. Methods include structured and unstructured interviews, fieldwork (situated in Årstad, a socially mixed borough in Bergen) and document analysis. The theoretic al framework is defined by theories of risk society. The project consists of three work packages that are thoroughly interlinked: 1) Parenting cultures in the family; 2) the interfaces of parenting cultures and civil society, and; 3) Parenting cultures i n the welfare state. The innovative aspects of this study prominently lie in its i) focus on parenting cultures as an expression of the driving forces in a risk society; ii) comparative focus on parenting cultures, differentiated by class, migration backg round and gender; iii) multilevel approach which includes public, semi-public and private societal arenas; and iv) interdisciplinary methodology and analysis with contributions from Cultural Studies and Social Anthropology.

Publications from Cristin

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Funding scheme:

SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell