Doing being parent

Performative Parenting in Côte d‘Ivoire

The aim of the research project is to examine care-giving practices of young, educated, and socially and geographically mobile parents in Southern Côte d’Ivoire and look at their “doing being parents” (to paraphrase Sachs 1984) as identity work and as a way of enacting different forms belonging (such as to a particular generation, to a particular social class). The methodological approach chosen responds to the assumption that parenting practices are performative and competitive and therefore invite for ethnographic research. The project builds upon research that emphasizes the cultural underpinnings of kinship and denaturalized processes of creating relatedness but at the same time strives to avoid essentializing notions of parenting as culturally determined by paying attention to the structures and materialized or mediatized frameworks within which performative parenting practices evolve. Studying parenting as performance and as performative will help reconciling processes of doing kinship with the essence of being a parent, as has recently been argued for by McKinnon 2016.

Parenting as practice involves different actors, experts, texts and performances in the making of good mothers and fathers, a “proper childhood” and successful parenting. The research project approaches parenting practices as performances through the following questions: Who are these actors that are involved in parenting as performance? What are the stages parents chose to perform being a parent? Who are the audiences or addressees of performative parenting? In what ways offers parenting alternative models for living? How are gender roles, the relations between the nuclear and the extended family and towards the authorities of parenting professionals, such as elderly women and midwifes but also towards “new” parenting professionals such as social welfare workers, parenting intervention trainers, day-care teachers and pediatricians renegotiated and re-evaluated? How do they craft being a mother or being a father against the backdrop of the widespread practice of social parenthood and fostering? What importance is attributed to descent from a praxeological perspective? How do parents grasp the social intimacy between their offspring and the social network of (temporal) care-takers, such as hired nounous, relatives, neighbors, local authorities etc? How is the nuclear family – privileged by state family politics as well as parenting intervention programs – lived in practice in these families? And in what ways do the materialized and mediatized expressions of particular models of how a proper family looks like feed back into parenting practices?

In order to research parenting as performative practice, I want to propose three conscious choices: First, I want to look at the way how parents navigate between different ideas of what constitutes good child-caring practices taking parents serious in their choices; second, by studying fathers and mothers as parents the project aims at avoiding methodological genderism, paying attention to gender differences as they emerge from the observations, not carry them along with a particular research design; and finally, doing fieldwork as a mother and with children will be used to experience interactive situations that invite for self-reflexivity and the explicit expression of taken for granted choices and practices.