Maggio, R. (2017). “The moral economy of early intervention: mothers, children, and the impact of austerity on perinatal mental health.” Medicine Anthropology Theory

Abstract

In November 2015, protests erupted in Oxford in response to the decision of the Oxfordshire County Council to cut, among other things, forty-four Children’s Centres and seven Early Intervention Hubs. The debate about whether these centres could be considered as disposable or not did not get to an agreement. I argue that the main cause of this outcome is that the opposing arguments were based on moral positions that were not only incompatible but fundamentally incommensurable. Those in favour of reducing deficit spending argue that cuts to social services (including family and children services) are unavoidable. Parents, however, refuse to accept austerity measures that will undermine the rights of their children to access services that will improve their chances in life. Neither position is based on incontrovertible evidence. On the one hand, the decision to cut a given service always involves the arbitrary evaluation of that service against other services that will not be cut. On the other, the demand to fund those services is based on the hope that early intervention initiatives will benefit children, even if the evidence that early intervention works is unconclusive or thin. On the basis of a thematic analysis of twenty-seven stories written by Oxfordshire parents, I interpret this conflict using the notion of moral economy, and argue that such an approach allows an appreciation of the link between health economics, perinatal mental health, the morality of parenting, and the early intervention discourse.

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