(Introduction to the Special Issue)
Parents, parenting and the perceived breakdown in family relationships make headlines on an almost daily basis. Recent years have seen an unprecedented burgeoning of policy initiatives designed to address such problems as lack of discipline amongst children, a rise in teenage pregnancies, worrying levels of drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers and children; eating disorders, childhood depression, and so on – and increasingly, it is parents and families that are at the centre of such policies. Whether through parenting support classes, ‘parenting orders’, proposals for ‘home-school agreements’ or an ‘upbringing pledge’ or ‘civil birth vow’, there seems to be a growing consensus amongst policy makers that accumulative evidence has indicated the undisputed role of early parenting patterns on children’s social, emotional and intellectual development, and that to abstain from intervening in family life in order to disseminate this evidence and optimize outcomes accordingly would amount to a moral and political failure.
Yet while there is no shortage of literature on the significance of particular models and patterns of parent-child interaction and their policy implications, we feel that the normative assumptions and conceptual distinctions implicit in a great deal of this work have not received sufficient attention from philosophers. At the same time, we recognize that philosophy does not hold a monopoly on ethical and conceptual arguments, and that, indeed, when addressing an area as rich as this, it is often impossible to separate out the empirical and the descriptive from the conceptual and the normative. With this in mind, then, we have brought together a group of academics whose research interests converge on issues at the heart of the nature and role of parenting, family life and upbringing. The group met three times over a period of six months for a series of seminars, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Research Networks and Workshops Scheme.