Macquarie University
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"No one wants to be that mother": an ethnography of difference and emotion in Sydney

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posted on 2022-03-28, 01:25 authored by Emma Jelstrup Balkin
This research explores Australian middle-class ideals of the “good child” as the source of parental emotional fulfilment and identity. Here, moral constructs of what a child should be and do, are indexed to parental values and definitions of what constitutes the good life. In an intensive and competitive parenting culture, where children’s achievements and good behaviour bring social capital to their parents, how do parents of “difficult” children negotiate the disappointments, shame and often marginalisation that come with being the parent of a difficult child? Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Sydney, Australia, this thesis examines the role of children in the construction of the good life. Placed at the intersection of the anthropology of parenting and psychological anthropology, my work explores the overlap of intensive parenting and the pathologization of childhood, and seeks to understand how the parental ethnotheories of middle-class Sydneysiders, produce a particular socio-moral model of the good child. Through an engagement with the lived experience of parents of difficult children and by attending to parental discourses and the emotions, I shed light on parental experiences of marginalisation. In so doing, I map a path from the macro structures of neoliberalism to the micro structures of everyday experience.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter One. The anthropology of parenting -- Chapter Two. On parental emotions -- Chapter Three. Childhood deviance and explanatory models -- Chapter Four. "He is a bit ADHD" : suffering and the psy-dispositif -- Conclusion -- Bibliography.


Bibliography: pages 71-80 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Aaron R. Denham


Copyright Emma Jelstrup Balkin 2019. Copyright disclaimer:




New South Wales


1 online resource (v, 80 pages) 1 colour illustration

Former Identifiers