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Parenting apps and the depoliticisation of the parent

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In educational research, digital technology has received considerable attention, and in early childhood studies this has largely focused, understandably, on children. Our concern here is with the figure of the parent and on a specific digital technology ‐ apps designed for parents. While apps can be seen as a digital extension of existing information and advice that has proliferated in the turn to parenting, and exhibits many of the characteristics of the parenting culture ‐ for example, positioning parents as in need of education, drawing predominantly from developmental psychology and neuroscience ‐ the particular affordances of apps draw attention to a more profound shift in how we understand what it means to raise children today, particularly if we reassert the representational ‐ political, pedagogical ‐ dimension of the figure of the parent.

This article considers the implications of parenting apps for the position of the parent in the parent‐child relationship. Key focuses in the critical sociological literature on the ‘parenting culture’ and the increasing digitisation of our daily lives are summarised to show how parenting apps can be seen as an extension of the instrumentalisation, scientisation and psychologisation identified therein. A pedagogical-philosophical register is introduced, however, informed by Stanley Cavell’s account of initiation in forms of life and Klaus Mollenhauer’s account of upbringing, that brings out the political aspect of the figure of the parent as a representative figure situated between child and world. With reference to a selection of apps aimed at the period from pregnancy to three years old, we illustrate how, while sharing similarities with the existing sources of information and advice for parents, parenting apps are distinctive due to the personalisation, visualisation and notion of community they offer. Hence, what appears as a politicisation of parents through a sociological lens is seen as a depoliticisation of parents through a pedagogical-philosophical lens.
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Keywords: community; depoliticisation; parenting apps; pedagogical representation; personalisation; upbringing; visualisation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: KU Leuven, Belgium 2: Liverpool Hope University, UK

Publication date: March 2020

This article was made available online on November 18, 2019 as a Fast Track article with title: "Parenting apps and the depoliticisation of the parent".

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