"The Messy Work": Parenting, Social Reproduction, and Neoliberal Restructuring in Jamaica

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Gentles, Amalia
Parenting , Jamaica , Caribbean , Neoliberalism , Family , Household , Social Reproduction , Policy Analysis
Examining the emergence and growing popularity of parenting programmes among states and international development agencies, this thesis explores the effectiveness of parenting interventions as a solution to high levels of social disorder, poverty, and violence that influence how poor families survive and carry out the “messy” work of social reproduction. Drawing on a case study of Jamaican parenting programmes and poor young women and men who participate in them, this thesis seeks to explore the relationship between these programmes and the neoliberal development strategies that the country has pursued for the last thirty years. Focusing specifically on the effects of liberalization on everyday practices of social reproduction among the urban poor, I argue that parenting programmes represent an institutional strategy aimed at shaping the behaviour of the poor, rather than addressing the structural causes that contribute to an ongoing crisis of social reproduction. Furthermore, I argue that parenting interventions reproduce racial and gender discourses and practices that target and pathologize poor, black Jamaicans as deficient and dysfunctional. Drawing on a critical policy approach, I contend that parenting cannot solve the larger anxieties created by the limited support given to spaces of social reproduction, especially when there is a commitment to social protection programmes and austerity measures that are encouraged by international institutions. Research findings demonstrate that parenting interventions contribute to positive parent-child relationships and confidence building. However, the daily experiences of parents are still complicated by socioeconomic stressors and structural barriers such as unemployment and poverty. In this context, community organizations also face uncertainty and fatigue in delivering support to parents. The broader significance of this study speaks to the necessity for social reproduction to be given as much priority as economic production in any socially sustainable strategy of development. The study also exemplifies how developing countries are largely controlled through mechanisms of debt servicing and donor funding especially when implementing and allocating collective resources to support families. Thus, a system where parenting intervention is rejected as a sufficient structural solution to collective issues in Jamaica is required in both local and international institutions.
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