Governing Families with Young Children through Discipline

Article excerpt

The Community Child Health Service develops its position on discipline and punishment

   Responsible parents want their children to be caring responsible young
   people. The best way to achieve this is to encourage self-discipline in the
   child (CCHS 1996).

This nursing protocol stipulates the State Community Child Health Service's (CCHS) position on what parents should be, what goal they should desire and how they should achieve it. It is one of many `calculated, reasoned prescriptions' (Foucault 1991: 80) formulated to direct nurses in their daily task of health promotion that involves seeking to shape the needs, desires, attitudes, attributes and actions of parents so that they will employ specific strategies to achieve definite goals in child rearing (cf. Dean 1995). The protocol's appearance in this form in a resource book for their nurses attests that the CCHS has problematised new issues and forged a new domain for governing that involves issues of self-formation of a specific kind (Dean 1995). Further, as is found at other governmental sites, the CCHS protocol is imbued with the vocabulary commonly associated with neoliberalism: personal responsibility, choice, self-fulfilment, autonomy and freedom (Miller and Rose 1990; Rose 1996). The problems, domain and language summoned here in the 1990s contrast starkly with that of the early CCHS, the Infant Health Service, whose 1920s motto was to `keep well babies well'.

Since the 1970s, the CCHS has expanded its `medical gaze' (Foucault 1973) to produce new truths about child behaviour and discipline. New perspectives, directives and techniques for evaluating family life have enabled community child health nurses to scrutinise and modify parent/child interactions with the view to ameliorating social and health problems produced by undisciplined parents and unruly children (cf. Rose 1996). This paper explores the disjuncture between CCHS prescriptions on discipline and the realities of family life described during interviews with several parents, Pentecostal believers and CCHS nurses. To do so, this paper combines `governmentality' devices with an analysis of interviews as `accounts' to bring to the fore the `messy actualities' of governing (Barry et al. 1993 cited in O'Malley et al. 1997) that manifest in oppositions, inconsistencies and ignored voices (O'Malley 1998). The aim is to redress criticism levelled at governmentality work accused of positing governmental programmes such as the CCHS as the `means of a ramifying apparatus of control' (Miller and Rose 1990: 3). The interview data are treated as `accounts' artfully constructed to convey how speakers understand and recognise categorisations, motivations and morality that attach to parent/child interaction (cf. Baker 1997: 139). This approach to analysing interview data identifies statements about the social world and how it might be arranged (Baker 1997: 143) to avoid treating interviewees as knowing subjects or `vessels of answers' (Holstein and Gubrium 1997:116). Both approaches are applied to highlight the difficulties, incompleteness or failures, rather than successes, in governing families through disciplining practices (Miller and Rose 1990: 11; Malpas and Wickham 1995).

This paper is divided into four sections. Section one discusses corporal punishment as a contemporary medical and nursing problem. Section two identifies the CCHS's normative position on corporal punishment and the contradictions within. The third section analyses parents' accounts of how they discipline their pre-school children. The parents, several of whom are Pentecostal, constitute part of the client population who do not comply with the CCHS position on discipline. The final section analyses several accounts of discipline by nurses employed to promote the CCHS's position on discipline in addition to performing a range of child health and development assessment tasks.

`Experts of subjectivity' attempt to regulate corporal punishment

Debates about corporal punishment as a mode of disciplining young children have waxed and waned over the last two centuries, but commentators concur with the view that `liturgies of punishment' (Foucault 1979 cited in Slee 1995) have shifted focus away from physical and psychological coercion toward strategies less offensive to late twentieth century sensibilities (Foucault 1979; Slee 1995; deMause 1974; Cleverley and Phillips 1987; Durkheim 1961; Stone 1977). …