The Case of Breastfeeding
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY BELFAST
This article situates breastfeeding politics in the context of intimate citizenship, where women’s capability to care in a range of social spaces is at stake. Drawing on the work of Lefebvre and Fenster, the article considers the extent to which recent breastfeeding promotion work by the Health Promotion Agency in Northern Ireland has sought to reconceive of social spaces in ways that have the potential to improve intimate citizenship for breastfeeding women.
KEY WORDS breastfeeding ◆ capabilities ◆ gender ◆ health promotion ◆ intimate citizenship ◆ Northern Ireland ◆ space
. . . breasts are capable of transforming legislation, citizenship, and cities themselves. (Bartlett, 2002: 111)
Much research has been carried out which seeks to establish why some women breastfeed while others do not. The explanations cover a wide range of factors, including the economic and political influence of artificial milk producers (e.g. Palmer, 1993); the medicalization of pregnancy, childbearing and infant feeding and the development of ‘scientific mothering’ (e.g. Apple, 1987); the lack of significant breastfeeding role models for new mothers (e.g. Bentley et al., 2003); the sexualization of breasts and the shame and embarrassment associated with exposing breasts in public places (e.g. Bartlett, 2002; Carter, 1995); a desire to shift the burden of feeding onto others, not least fathers (e.g. Earle, 2000; Maher, 1992); and the European Journal of Women’s Studies Copyright © 2008 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore), 1350-5068 Vol. 15(2): 83–99; http://ejw.sagepub.com DOI: 10.1177/1350506808090305
European Journal of Women’s Studies 15(2)
difficulty of returning to paid work while continuing to breastfeed (e.g. Hausman, 2004). This article seeks to situate this range of reasons within two broader contexts. First, I argue that breastfeeding can be regarded as a site where Plummer’s notion of intimate citizenship (2001, 2003) is in question. The embodied character of breastfeeding as a social practice raises the sorts of questions about queer breastfeeding noted by Giles (2003) and Longhurst (2008). Second, breastfeeding would seem to offer a good example of where citizenship, in this case intimate, is mediated by a gendered entitlement to inhabit and use public space (Fenster, 2005). As Stearns (1999: 322) has noted, ‘the actual labor of breastfeeding is increased because women must constantly negotiate and manage the act of breastfeeding in every sector of society – in public and in the home’. Consequently, the breastfeeding women she talked to did their best to achieve invisibility in breastfeeding, often at significant cost (Stearns, 1999: 313). In what follows, I first outline the idea of intimate citizenship, and particularly the ways in which breastfeeding as an embodied, dyadic, careoriented practice, which often necessarily takes place in ‘public’ or social spaces, can be viewed in this light. Second, I discuss the ways in which citizenship is mediated through the social production of space, in often gendered ways. Turning then to Northern Ireland, the final section of the article focuses on efforts to reconceive of social spaces as breastfeedingfriendly in Northern Ireland, through the work of the Health Promotion Agency (HPANI) in the region. The key question this article is concerned with is whether perceptions and conceptions of social space in breastfeeding politics might lead to improved intimate citizenship for breastfeeding women.
INTIMATE CITIZENSHIP Plummer’s ‘sensitising concept’ of intimate citizenship seeks to explain the broad range of conflicts and contestations associated with practices and processes of intimate life. If we understand citizenship as a distinct, and relatively thin, form of belonging to a collectivity (Isin and Wood,...