Brock University

Parenting and Care Omnibus

This session features research in the area of Care with a focus on parenting.

Session Organizer: Patrizia Albanese, Ryerson University, ; Sherry Fox, CSA-SCS,


Mothering and the Global Autism Crisis: An Interpretive Sociology of Care

Patty Douglas, Department of Humanities, Social Science Social Justice Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto,

Drawing from interpretive sociology and disability studies, I examine care practices in the lives of Toronto autism mothers against the backdrop of today’s ever-expanding global autism “crisis”.  Through their “natural” identity as caregivers, mothers are typically the primary target and agent of a developmental version of care that locates “progress” in the achievement of normalcy for their child.  This approach to care implicitly assumes autism is an undesirable biomedical difference that needs to be remedied. I draw on two focus group conversations with autism mothers in Toronto as occasions to “re-vision” care outside the bounds of dominant biomedical regimes and social science research often concerned with issues of coping and stigma.  Through an exploration of the tension between mothers’ complicity in and contestation of expert medicalized forms of care, I suggest that alongside developmental versions of care, mothers practice a pedagogic form of care that offers an alternative to institutionalized practices animated by biomedical understandings.  This approach contributes to recently emerging work that crosses the borders between interpretive sociology, disability studies and feminist approaches to care to challenge oppressive patriarchal and ableist structures that marginalize mothers and autistic individuals alike (Fisher and Goodley 2007; Ryan and Runswick-Cole 2008).


Fisher, Pamela and Dan Goodley. 2007. The linear medical model of disability: Mothers of disabled babies resist with counter-narratives. Sociology of Health and Illness 29: 66-81.

Ryan, Sara and KatherineRunswick-Cole. 2008. Repositioning mothers: Mothers, disabled children and disability studies. Disability & Society 23: 199-210


Caring for my Daughter: A Mother’s Journey through Childhood Cancer

Natalie Carrière, University of Ottawa,

This autoethnographic narrative examines my changing relationship with my daughter and two sons as we journey through childhood cancer. In this vignette which tells of our experience with febrile neutropenia, I reflect on how some of my ways of knowing as a mother collude and collide with medical ways of knowing. I also illustrate the contrast between my experience with persisting grief and trauma, and the medical and (social work) discourses we encountered that urged us to get back in the community and rebuild and resume our ‘normal lives’ at the end of treatment.  Through the telling of our story, I argue for emotion and vulnerability, alongside a clinical contextualization, as essential methodological tools to providing sociological and anthropological understandings of parents’ experiences of childhood cancer.


Is Breastfeeding only Women’s Work? Exploring Portrayals of Men in Breastfeeding Discourse through the lens of a Sociology of Care

Phyllis Rippeyoung, University of Ottawa, , Shannon Russell, University of Ottawa ,

Breastfeeding has been traditionally seen as inherently “women’s” work considering that men’s bodies are not typically able produce enough milk to nourish a child.  This embodied difference then becomes intertwined with culturally constructed images of men’s limited capacities as caregivers more generally (Doucet 2007).  These beliefs have real material implications for how all work is divided.  Past research has shown that fathers of breastfeeding infants do less infant care work than fathers of infants not being breastfed (Rippeyoung and Noonan 2012).  Further, there is clear evidence that gendered divisions of unpaid labor have significant implications for gendered divisions in paid labour, and vice versa (Gerson 1993; Hochschild 1989).  Understanding the larger socio-economic patterns of gender inequity today, requires an understanding of the kinds of cultural messages about caring labor in our society.

Our research will examine the portrayal of me in breastfeeding discourse, through the lens of a sociology of care.  We will examine popular, government, and breastfeeding support websites to understand how men’s roles in the care of babies is presented.  We argue that the issue of breastfeeding helps to shine a light on the boundaries of discourses that is simply “women’s work.”


Human Milk Exchange and Care Work Practices

Robyn Lee, York University,

Breastfeeding is universally acknowledged as having many important benefits for children, leading many parents to attempt to obtain breast milk through alternative means, including wet nursing, cross-nursing, and the use of donated human milk. Rhonda Shaw suggests that nursing children who are not your biological offspring challenges the perception of breastfeeding as “work that is not shared” (Shaw, 2004, pp. 287–8). Human milk exchange can have a significant impact on LGBTQ families in particular since it allows gay fathers to feed their children breast milk and may eliminate or reduce divisions between birth and non-birth mothers in lesbian-headed families (Zizzo, 2009). But sharing human milk also has the potential to challenge and redefine gender roles in families generally. Milk exchange may make breastfeeding more compatible with paid employment; and for some women, payment received for their milk can be used to offset the financial costs involved in staying home to take care of their children. This paper will explore some of the effects of human milk exchange on gendered care work practices.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie