Childhood and Society seminar: From Active to Activist Parenting: Educational Activism and the Injuries of Institutionalised Misrecognition, with Dr Nathan Fretwell and Dr John Barker (12-12.45pm London Time, Monday 22 Nov, 2021, free, online)

Abstract: This paper centres on the experiences of parents fighting for educational justice. It concerns parents who respond to the uncertainty provoked by policy developments adversely affecting their families and communities by reinventing themselves as educational activists, and it is about the resistance they encountered in struggling to defend their interests. Since the 1980s, education and family policy in England have contrived to promote a culture of active and involved parenting. This tends, however, to prioritise the individual family unit and scarcely extends to consider parents’ collective interests. Drawing on qualitative data collected from three parent-led campaign groups targeting either funding cuts to education or the academisation of local schools, we detail how parents’ activism disrupts the individualism around which dominant norms of active parenting cohere whilst simultaneously asserting the power and promise of collective parental involvement. Our data also reveals, however, that bitter conflicts arose around the anti-academisation campaigns. Adopting the lens of Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition we foreground the powerful feelings conflict generates as parents are routinely disregarded and disrespected by the authorities. Their experiences suggest that not all forms of active involvement are equally welcome. And yet, we contend that the commitment and effort demonstrated by parents, especially when faced with institutionalised misrecognition, constitutes the very epitome of parental involvement. We thus argue for a more expansive and socially just conception of parental involvement that recognises parents’ collective right to contribute to decision-making processes within education and call on educational authorities to value this engagement and work with rather than against parents. 

Bio: Dr Nathan Fretwell is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Early Childhood Studies at Middlesex University. He is an experienced qualitative researcher and has conducted funded research for a range of organisations, from local authorities to the European Commission. Nathan specialises in research on home-school relations, education and family policy, and alternative educational philosophies. His current research explores the phenomenon of parental activism and the experiences of parents fighting for educational justice. Nathan’s work has been published in leading Education journals, including the British Educational Research Journal and Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Dr John Barker is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education at Middlesex University. He is an established academic with an international reputation for delivering high quality research and consultancy for a diverse range of organisations, including UK central government, local authorities, other government agencies and the voluntary sector. John has specialisms in research methodologies (including ethics, qualitative methods, visual methods and ‘children centred’ methods), and children, youth and families (including play, childcare and mobility). He is currently researching parental activism, families’ experiences of private tuition centres, and evaluating the use of film reviews for student assessment in higher education. John has an impressive range of individual and joint authored publications in high quality Education and Social Science journals. 

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