Date of Degree


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Shirley Lindenbaum

Committee Members

Kate Crehan

Barbara Katz Rothman

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Based on ethnographic research in Alameda County, California, this dissertation examines the parenting practices and knowledge that are taught in court-mandated parenting classes along with those of parents enrolled in these classes. In California, two of the primary reasons that parents would be mandated to take classes are because of involvement with Child and Family Services (CFS) or in a custody dispute that reaches the courts. I argue that the different forms of knowledge and the practices advanced in the classes, at times consistent with, at times in conflict with those of the parents, reflect the demands and social responsibility of our current political and economic setting in the United States. The demands of a global market-driven economy require citizens who are self-disciplined, prepared to be flexible for the job market, schooled in the ways of a consumer society, and ready to accept responsibility for their own health and well-being ((Katz 2004), (Rose 1999), (Petersen and Lupton 1996)). I also suggest that this ideology rests on the authority of scientific and psychological research that is far from conclusive; it is the authority, rather than the information, that informs the values behind parenting advice. Further, I argue that the prevalent parenting approach, which is time-intensive and expensive, works to reinforce structural inequalities.

Parents are the focus of much attention as the means to reverse many social problems including poverty, crime, ill health, and illiteracy. If parents could raise children with the appropriate morals, ambitions, and abilities, the thinking goes, children could grow up to be responsible, healthy, and middle class. As Sociologist Val Gillies phrases it, this assumption results in "a stream of initiatives designed to regulate childrearing as part of an almost evangelical drive to equip working-class parents with the skills to raise middle-class children" (Gillies 2005, 838). I have tried to show in this dissertation how parenting education is integral to this overall drive.

I base my writing on two years of ethnographic research on parenting education in Alameda County, California. I attended classes of three different parenting organizations and conducted in-depth interviews with class participants, teachers, and program directors. I also read hundreds of parenting magazines and books, and had countless conversations with other parents, looking for advice for raising my own three-year-old daughter.

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