Saturday, 28 April 2012

Civilising the Piglet

“What’s going on now?” grumbles the Good Fella emerging bleary-eyed into what has become a regular screaming row going on between myself and the Piglet – although not normally at 7.20 am.

What is going on is that I have gone to get the Piglet up and discovered her playing on her Nintendo DS in bed, contrary to instructions to stay quiet in bed EITHER cuddling a toy OR reading a book from 8 pm at night till 7 am in the morning.  (“But what if I fall out of bed and break my arm, am I allowed to come out of my room then?”)  If not ordered to stay in her own bed the Piglet will appear bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 3.10, 5.20 and 6.30, saying:  “I can’t sleep,” implication being:  so why should you. 
The constant necessity of screaming in outrage at the Piglet’s minor transgressive behaviours, often followed by her making raspberry noises and my then descending into maternal rage, is wearing me down so I have instituted confiscations instead. No DS today – none all weekend if you carry on. No DVDs if you do that again. But why is this necessary? Cod parental psychology says the Piglet needs this conflict of opinions in order to form her sense of self against boundaries of parental prohibition. A lurking self-analysis suggests perhaps I need this opportunity to scream in outrage: You ungrateful brat, I gave up my career to wash your knickers and cook you chips and now you dare to blow raspberries at me!
Medea killing her children
Medea killing her children by Poussin
- collection of H.M. Queen Elizabeth 
Luckily I am a social anthropologist not a psychologist so I don’t have to get caught up in some stürm und drang drama of guilt and repression in which the Piglet and I fight grand Freudian battles all day like matricidal classical Greek heroines.  Instead I can rely on explanations from the module I teach DD201 Sociology and Society (soon to be superseded by DD206 - The uses of Sociology). 
An early DD201 chapter looked at Garfinkel’s breaching experiment.  The breaching experiment is a means by which the social scientist can get an understanding of what is normal behaviour by behaving in a way which breaches the norms – people react in ways which show that there is a code of behaviour being contravened.  For example Garfinkel suggested his students go home and behave very politely to their families, as if they were a guest not a family member.  The results were startling.  Families responded with outrage, some even threatening to disown their inappropriately courteous offspring and when it was explained to one family that this was a class assignment, they were even more cross, saying “we’re not rats, you know”. 
For my purposes, this helpfully suggests that some bad behaviour is normal in a family and that I would probably get even more cross than I do now if the Piglet were to turn into some delightful Stepford daughter, saying Yes mum, every time I tell her to put her socks and cardigan on and not forget to bring her hairbrush downstairs with her, or OK then, when I say No, I will not buy you greasy sausage rolls from Greggs – especially now the Tories are taxing them – when we are on our way home for a nutritious meal I spent hours preparing instead of hurling herself away from me with screams of anguish, saying I hate you, you are the worst mum in the world.  Probably. 
In his chapter on the regulation of the self, Mitchell Dean explores the thinking of among others, Erving Goffman, Norbert Elias and Michel Foucault.
Norbert Elias is a favourite social philosopher of mine, mainly because our first family home backed onto the garden of the famous Eliasian scholar Eric Dunning who was extremely kind and friendly to us. (The Piglet’s first meals included a mashed apple scrumped from Eric’s tree which overhung our fence.) Elias’s The Civilising Process explores how in the formation of modern states we came to focus on the minutiae of etiquette, allowing us to develop certain social identities. It is of course some consolation to know that the dull daily routine of Use your fork not your fingers, Don’t pick your nose, Use your fork not your fingers, Fork not fingers, is contributing in its small way to civilisation as we know it.
plan of inspection house 
Foucault goes further than Elias. For Foucault and scholars in his wake such as Jacques Donzelot, we are immersed in a discourse that is beyond a civilising process – nexuses of power-knowledge. Everything is discourse, in which we are positioned according to certain power relations and in which our docile bodies are regulated by the organisation of knowledge about us. Foucault drew on Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the panopticon (he about whom an apocryphal story says his stuffed body is brought in to cast a deciding vote if necessary at University College London council meetings): a building which can keep prisoners under total surveillance. Since this is physically impractical, Foucault suggests we achieve total governance of social subjects by teaching them to regulate themselves. So I am engaged in the disciplining of the Piglet into self-regulating as a social being. Only by listening to me and learning some appropriate ways of ‘doing’ the self as child can she hope to situate herself in the discursive practices of empowerment and disempowerment which make up society as we know it.
Of course it could just be that if I don't make the Piglet stay in bed and get a good night's sleep, if she is allowed to sneak out instead for the more entertaining pleasures of Waking Up Mum and Achieving Level 77 on her Harry Potter game, she will be tired and grumpy, fail to do so well at school and not enjoy playing with her friends. 


  1. MonkeyBitch aka Kay24 June 2012 at 13:22

    I had my first son at the tender age of just 16, and had a rather non-conformist liberal attitude with him. It went against my personal grain to attempt any sort of suppression of his individuality (That and a non-conformist, liberal, 2nd wave feminist mum whose idea of dinner was a quid for a bag of chips!)He was subsequently labelled ADHD, but I reckon (without guilt these days) that it was simply down to being primarily socialised by another child.Despite my moral warnings of the hardships of life as a young single mother, he had a child at 17 making me a granny at the age of 33. (33!!! I cry at the vanity of it all)He does not value education in any way shape or form (I didn't myself until I found myself divorced with two kids and no qualifications at the age of 25) I had son number 2, six years later, and he is literally the opposite of son number one, a studious boy who is sitting his G.C.S.E's 2 years early. I think there were 2 main reasons that the two are so diametrically opposed. 1, is that I had grown up a little and had settled down hugely. (God bless Rita Felski, for helping me understand the concept of ontological security (sounds common sense? try living all your life without any, then it appears initially to be a strange notion indeed!)The second reason I believe them to be so different, is as I've already mentioned I began to value getting an education when faced with a future without the life chances that Weber so discussed. Baby number 3 (my last and my girl) came when I was 33 and has she got the best version of mum? My eldest for all my fuck ups had the most fun and as much as he is hindering his life chances, out of all of them he is the most adventurous and creative, which brings me back to not surpressing the child to allow for individuality. My second son, for all his studious ways, does not like to take risks and is all about respectability. My eldest simply does not give a shit what people think of him. It's a little early to tell how my toddler is going to turn out but what I hope is the best approach is to take the best bits of how I raised my boys, and leave out the bad. Measured socialisation I think is the key. Can't let em run riot, we all have to conform to some extent (I struggle with this still, there are many different groups to conform to and many roles to play)(Goffman)Cant over socialise either so it's a nigh on impossible game to play.

  2. BTW you've turned me into a sociology nerd,I'm still processing all the stuff I had to cram. I found myself in the park mulling over the concept of cultural capital (still wealth behind it all) I call it the ability to consume.