Celia Roberts

Co-authored with Adrian Mackenzie

Website: Celia Roberts | Adrian Mackenzie

Brain-based parenting: learning the science of care

Centre for Science Studies and Department of Sociology, Lancaster University

What happens when scientific knowledges move from laboratory and clinical settings deep into therapeutic and domestic settings concerned with the care of children? What kind of care is expected from those trained in ‘brain-based parenting’? How are these forms of care taught, and what do they teach us about recent attempts to theorise bodily materiality and  indeterminacy? Based on a kind of observant participation, this paper describes some of the reptilian, mammalian and biochemical intersections animating this contemporary form of parenting. Situated at the confluence of attachment theory, neurosciences, psychotherapy and social work, the scientific knowledges in question understand affective states and relations in terms of the dynamics between different brain localities and flows of biochemical signals into the body through hormones such as cortisol. This paper describes our encounter with these forms of knowledge as taught by social workers, psychotherapists and psychologists. The ways in these knowledges coalesce and disintegrate in different domains of practice is instructive. Brain-based parenting, we argue, resembles the situation of the humanities and social sciences in the way that it draws on contemporary sciences to deal with the problem of how to move away from foundationalist accounts of subjectivity, bodies, power and value. The situation of social science and humanities scholars in relation to contemporary knowledge production in the sciences is akin to that of a social worker or parent trying to get to grips with ‘the science’ in working out what to do. Responding to disruptive indeterminacy, we suggest, might be less an ontological challenge than an ethical problem of how to observe, wait, bind or hold together volatile mixtures of feeling, habit and expectation.

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