Panel 4: Popular Media Discourses of Care.

Monday 5 September, 2016

By Zoë Shacklock and Gaby Smith

  • Maggie Sweeney (University of the West of Scotland): “Failings in the Duty of Care”: Mediated Discourses on “Children at Risk”
  • Yvonne Cunningham (University of Glasgow): “I’ve Got Two Little Children and This is the Worst Thing That Could Happen”
  • Anna McFarlane (University of Glasgow): “An Alien Inside”: Science Fiction and Pregnancy in Anne Enright’s “Breeding” (2004)



-Discourses of care are inseparable from the mediated discourses in which they interact

-The mass media shapes the language we use to frame our understandings of care, powerfully impacting public perception

-These relationships are particularly important when they interact with mediated identity discourses, such as age, gender, or class

Maggie Sweeney discussed the ways in which the master narrative of childhood today is one of danger and risk. Framing childhood as precarious and vulnerable fuels high levels of anxiety about protection and wellbeing. Using Howard Becker’s idea of ‘labelling’, she explored how this narrative is perpetuated by the mass media. The media sets up particular frames of reference – failures of duties of care, children at risk – which influence both public perception and policy making. Sweeney discussed some of the more high-profile examples of child neglect in recent years, tracing the influence power of the language of the media.

Yvonne Cunningham also considered at the intersection between care discourses and the media, presenting a content analysis of cancer stories in UK newspapers. She found that two thirds of the stories focused on breast cancer, and an overwhelming number of these were personal stories. Since these stories focus on women’s experience, cancer stories intersect with caring discourses, with most of the women expressing their fears about how cancer will impact their ability to care for their children and families. Consequently, surviving cancer also means becoming a better carer. The stories emphasise the transformative power of cancer, in which women extend their affective capacity to become braver people who care for a bigger network of cancer suffers.

Anna McFarlane demonstrated how mainstream accounts of pregnancy leave little room for its more taboo elements – pain, horror, and loss. Yet science fiction has always provided a space to tell these sorts of stories, allowing culture (and women in particular) to engage with the horrors of giving the body over to another. Through a discussion of Anne Enright’s 2004 essay ‘Breeding‘ (which compares pregnancy with alien abduction), she explored how the language of science fiction gives us political tools, opening up a space to consider how dominant medical/political discourses impact upon our experiences of our own bodies.



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