Narratives of parenting and social support in three popular websites
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Narratives of ‘parenting’ and social support in three popular websites. Joe Winter – J.Winter@ ioe.ac.uk / @ JolyonWinter. In association with the University of Sussex. NCRM / ESRC Phase III node. - 3 linked studies: Families and Food Practices Family lives and Environment

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Narratives of parenting and social support in three popular websites

Narratives of ‘parenting’ and social support in three popular websites

Joe Winter – [email protected]/ @JolyonWinter

In association with the University of Sussex


Ncrm esrc phase iii node

NCRM / ESRC Phase III node

  • - 3 linked studies:

  • Families and Food Practices

  • Family lives and Environment

  • Parenting Identities and Practices

  • PhD: Constructions of ‘Parenting’ and social support; narratives of parenting identities and practices in online and face-to-face contexts


My phd

My PhD

  • Phase 1: Dominant discourses on website homepages and narratives of ‘parenting’ foregrounded by managers

  • Phase 2: Parents’ everyday narrative identities and practices

  • Mixed methods: MMDA, telephone interviews, user surveys, online observation,email interviews, and face-to-face interviews.

  • Psychosocial: constructions and experiences of parenting relating to gender, class, ethnicity


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This seminar

This seminar

  • Outline research literature and policy background relating to parenting support.

  • Multimodal Discourse Analysis – relevance and examples

  • Early narrative analysis of interviews with managers / founders: Research Question: ‘What different narratives of ‘parenting’ and social support are foregrounded by each?’

  • Conclusion / Next steps


Policy and research

Policy and research

  • New Labour continued free-market ideology of previous Conservative government. Relevance of outcome-driven language of New Labour

  • (Fairclough 2002)

  • Parents positioned as learning subjects:

  • Universal ‘parenting’ skills to be applied regardless of experience & identity:

  • ‘It’s ludicrous that we should expect people to train for hours to drive a car or use a computer but, when it comes to looking after a baby, we tell people just to get on with it.’(David Cameron launching CANparent, 2012)


Policy and research1

Policy and research

  • Manualisationof ‘parenting’ reflected in language used to talk about it – performative,- Verb ‘Parenting’ usurping noun ‘Parenthood’.

  • Scientisation of ‘parenting’ (Raemakers & Suissa 2011)

  • Construction of the self according to taken-for-granted models of psychological knowledge; Psy discourses (Rose 1999; Foucault 1991)

  • Relational approaches enable exploration of embedded patterns re identities and practices (Edwards & Gillies 2011; Shirani et al. 2012)


Policy and research2

Policy and research

  • Positioning of parents within parent support as consumers / clients depending on social class.

  • The apparently gender-neutral term ‘parenting’ does not reflect the gendered practices of fathers and mothers. Subsequent framing of mothers as deskilled – feeling disempowered.

  • (Edwards & Gillies 2011)

  • Grand narrative of Neoliberalism entwined with culture of ‘intensive parenting’ Neoliberalism also restructuring traditional gender and class order and permeating wider culture and media

  • (Shirani, Henwood & Colthart 2012; Connell 2009; Jensen 2010)


Online support for parents

Online support for parents

  • Smithson & Pedersen (2010; 2013) study of ‘Mumsnet’

  • Surveyed 391 respondents and carried out ‘online ethnography’ and discourse analysis

  • Particular norms and values hold importance in Mumsnet community – e.g. correct grammar / reinforcement of offline power relations

  • More recent paper suggests Mumsnet as space for alternative femininity

  • Alstam (2013) narrative study of Swedish forum ‘The Parent Place’

  • ‘Digital divide’ may now be based more on resources such as rhetorical and narrative competence than S.E.S – new hidden markers of social division

  • Problem area moved from a divide in terms of access towards one that relates more to having acquired skills to handling the social and discursive contexts a given forum presents.


Why social semiotic multimodality

Why Social Semiotic Multimodality?

  • Conceptually my study draws on Social Semiotics: How do people come to make meaning with the particular cultural resources available to them?

  • Modes of image and movement increasingly dominant on webpages – mobiles in particular

  • Multimodal Discourse Analysis (MMDA) of homepages as ‘texts’ offers broader lens to explore the discursive representation of ‘parenting’ on homepages


  • Social semiotic multimodality four underlying assumptions

    Social Semiotic Multimodality: Four underlying assumptions

    • Language is merely one part of an overall multimodal ensemble

    • Each mode – e.g. image, writing, gesture – does different semiotic work. E.g. A photograph may show what writing cannot tell.

    • People make meaning through the selection and configuration of modes

    • The meaning of signs is social and influenced by the sign-maker’s interest in a social context (Kress, 2010)


    Mmda research questions

    MMDA: Research Questions

    • What are the dominant discourses around which the website homepages are organised?

    • What normative ideals of ‘parenting’ do these discourses suggest?

    • Are these consistently presented or undercut by contradictory discourses?


    Mmda method and sampling

    MMDA: Method and sampling

    • My Research Questions pertain to dominant discourses and normative ideals of ‘parenting’, so my focus is on common, regular features of website

    • Viewed and recorded pages over time and selected focal texts

    • Drew maps of layout of homepages – to explore relationship and interaction between modes


    Multimodal discourse analysis useful concepts

    Multimodal Discourse Analysis: Useful concepts

    • Interest of Initial sign-maker’s ‘setting the ground’ (website founders / managers / designers) (Kress, 2010)

    • Affordance – possibilities for representation – losses and gains

    • Reading path- Salience & Marginality: Hierarchies of movement (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006)

    • Coherence -Multimodal orchestration & ensembles of meaning

    • (Kress, 2012)


    Coherence

    • Older logos

    • overtly masculine

    • New logo more

    • genderneutral

    • Incoherence may

    • reveal underlying

    • conflict between

    • different websites’

    • ideologies?

    Coherence


    Coherence1

    • Appropriation of ‘Charlie’s Angels’

    • may reflectfeminist discourse but

    • also neoliberal restructuring of

    • traditional gender orders

    • Reinforcement of existing power

    • relationships – status / education

    • (Smithson & Pederson, 2010)

    Coherence


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    Mmda findings

    MMDA findings

    • What are the dominant discourses around which the website

    • homepages are organised?

    • Peer-to-peer discourse- Informational discourse

    • Writing / talk foregrounded- ‘Expert’ advice foregrounded

    • Discourse of consumption - Moral / religious discourse

    • Assumptions of normativity- Heteronormative ideal suggested

      - e.g. Educated

    • Normative ideal of female caregiver- Contradictory gender discourses

    • Reinforcing existing power relations- Static ensemble contradicts notion

    • of a social discourse


    Mmda limitations

    MMDA: Limitations

    • Does not account for lived experience: affect / emotion

    • Culturally specific and questionable notion of fixed affordances of modes prior to perception and experience by individuals (Pink 2011)

    • My interest in relationship between discourses of ‘parenting’ and social support and parents’ everyday practices and identities requires that I address individual interpretation – Psychosocial / Narrative

    • BUT: Contributes to central methodological comparison of my project


    Telephone interviews

    Telephone Interviews

    • Loosely structured Interviews with managers / founders:

    • 1 with Mumsnet; 1 with Netmums; 2 with Dad.info

    • Questions for specific topic areas: design / funding / advertising

    • Elicit narratives through question type:

    • Open / descriptive / temporal frame to questions

    • Co-construction / reflexivity - Field notes immediately before and after to record context


    Narrative interviews

    Narrative Interviews?

    • What makes it a “narrative” interview is the analytic framing after the event

    • (Andrews 2012)

    • Preparatory reading re interviewing the powerful (Walford 2011)

    • Reflexivity – different power relations with different interviewees


    Narrative analysis

    Narrative analysis

    • RESEARCH QUESTION:

    • ‘What different narratives of ‘parenting’ and social support are foregrounded by the websites’ managers?’

    • Key narratives through repetition

    • Dramatic, emotion – characters voices, metaphor

    • Embedded smaller stories – cultural assumptions / personal identity (Bamberg 2004; Phoenix 2008)

    • -


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • Time limit given at beginning

    • Difficult to get at personal narrative of ‘parenting’ – socio-political status?

    • Tell me the story of how Mumsnet came into being?

    • Congruent with official narrative on ‘about us’ page

    • Recent changes to ‘about us’ – made more personal, foregrounding campaigning aspect of the website.


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded1

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • ‘Parenting’ as something to be trained for – skills-based project to gather knowledge about that Mumsnet users have the necessary resources to provide.

    • Repetition of ‘pooling wisdom’, ‘sharing knowledge’ suggests key narrative of user-led space / peer-to-peer advice swapping re parenting support. Pioneers and consumers with cultural and social capital to choose freely (Edwards & Gillies 2011; Bourdieu 2000)


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded2

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • Manager positioned as a part of ‘real community’ of Mumsnet

    • Emphasises key narrative of parents as free agents and website as user-led

    • Managerial narrative emblematic of wider user group

    • Neoliberal narrative of freedom of choice, equality of individuality or creating new alternative femininity unaccepted and criticised in society (Smithson & Pederson)


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded3

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • Key ‘parenting’ narrative of unknowing and potential isolation

    • Key helping narrative of parents’ need for social support at local level in order to build desired contacts

    • Personal narrative of adversity setting trajectory and informing content of Netmums


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded4

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • - Notably more affective / emotional language / turns of phrase – ‘We felt that…’ and assumption that support must be uncritical

    • Less dramatic devices employed – more open and willing to share personal narrative – narrative of solidarity with co-founder extended to whole user group?

    • Concurrent narrative of governmentality and instrumental support directed at users who are positioned as lower social economic status and as potential clients (Edwards & Gillies 2011; Holt 2010)


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded5

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • Forum introduced after five years as online listings service but heavily moderated

    • Forum characterised as suffused with a helping narrative involving assumption that the support they wish to offer would be undermined by total freedom of expression.

    • Key narratives: Helping narrative foregrounded – ‘social support’ as a service / Parents positioned as lacking knowledge and isolated / Personal narrative of ill health emblematic of narrative of ‘parenting’ and ‘social support’ constructed on Netmums


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded6

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • Gendered narrative of ‘Fatherhood’ repeated - distinct from ‘parenting’?

    • Interview suffused with interlinked narratives of social support according to social services model and fathering narrative

    • Personal narrative informed by long experience of working in social services rather than experiences of being a parent


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded7

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • Dramatic devices – voicing characters, emplotment, catharsis through shared journey

    • Presented as narrative emblematic of fathers in general – wider social problem given gravitas by narrator having borne witness to it

    • Deficit model of fathering – narratives of plight, struggle and journey aligned with ‘parenting’ of particular social groups – ‘othering’?

    • Fathers positioned as lacking expert knowledge of social services


    What narratives of parenting and social support are foregrounded8

    What narratives of ‘Parenting’ and social support are foregrounded?

    • Potential of the internet for greater empowerment of parents

    • Expert discourse of ‘parenting’ according to normative ideal of ‘good parenting’ implied

    • Narrative of governmentality – implies justification / validation for the mission of Dad.info

    • Historical narrative = Canonical narrative of power linking church, state and market which are constructed as inherent force for the greater good – informing collective identity


    Key narratives

    Key Narratives


    Future directions

    Future directions

    • Recruiting participants from each website

    • Observation on forums / email and face-to-face interviews

    • What narratives of ‘parenting’ are told in different contexts?

    • How suffused are mothers’ and fathers’ everyday identities and practices with canonical narratives and normative ideals of ‘parenting’ and social support foregrounded by the websites and wider society?


    Any comments questions

    Any comments / questions?

    • Joe Winter

    • [email protected]

    • Twitter: @JolyonWinter / @NOVELLAUK

    • Thomas Coram Research Unit

    • Institute of Education

    • 27/28 Woburn Square

    • London

    • WC1H 0AA

    Institute of Education

    University of London

    20 Bedford Way

    London WC1H 0AL

    Tel +44 (0)20 7612 6000

    Fax +44 (0)20 7612 6126

    Email [email protected]

    Web www.ioe.ac.uk


    Narratives of parenting and social support in three popular websites

    Joe Winter – PhD project

    Supervisors: Ann Phoenix & Julia Brannen

    Title: Constructions of ‘parenting’ and social support; narratives of parenting identities and practices in online and offline contexts

    • Research question:

    • In what ways do mothers and fathers seek support on and offline?

    • Mixed methods: Multimodal discourse analysis / Online ethnographic observation/ Narrative Interviews: telephone, email and face-to-face

    • Psychosocial; Constructions and experiences of parenting re Gender, social class and ethnicity


    Future directions1

    Future directions

    • Research Questions

    • How far do discussions on the web forums reflect normative ideals / canonical narratives of ‘parenting’?

    • How do participants suggest they exercise agency as parents through their use of discussion forums?

    • In what ways are online discussions of parenting gendered, racialised, classed?

    • What normative ideals / canonical narratives of ‘parenting’ are suggested by parents’ narratives of their everyday parenting practices in face-to-face interviews?

    • How do these compare with canonical narratives / normative discourses of parenting given online (via the websites Mumsnet, Netmums, and Dad.info) and those present on the websites’ homepages?


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