Maggio, R., Early Intervention Ethics: The Impact of External Notions of “Good” Mothering, ABSTRACT accepted for conference

Abstract accepted at the Rags to Riches 2016 Workshop, “Great Expectations? Childhood and Social Mobility”, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, 10 June 2016, Exeter College, Oxford

Workshop website


The recognition that early childhood care has a crucial role in breaking recursive cycles of inequality has resulted in the widespread diffusion of early intervention programmes. Scientific research on early intervention has benefited from the ethical endorsement and financial support of policy makers. However, recent studies have seriously questioned the effectiveness of these programmes, whilst others question their implicit normative judgments and ethical implications.

Crucially, the womb provides the first environment for a developing baby, and as such, women’s bodies usually becomes privileged targets for early intervention. However, this raises ethical questions regarding the extent to which scientific claims justify the increased scrutiny, objectification and control of women’s bodies in order to promote the ‘best interests’ of a future child and of society.

Relatedly, some worry that early intervention institutionalises mother-blame, increasing the already great pressure that society places upon pregnant women and mothers, whilst perhaps underemphasising the role of other factors such as structural inequality in shaping environments and outcomes for children. In this brief paper I ask what kind of impact this state of affairs has on the long-term development of children enrolled in early intervention programmes.

Workshop theme:

Diverse factors viewed as determining a child’s future success – from good nutrition in infancy to academic readiness for and access to university education – have emerged as an important topic in policy, research and the media. At the core of these discourses is the framing of social mobility in and through childhood as the key to life-long wellbeing, opportunity, and advancement. The aim of the workshop is to explore these social, cultural, biological, and historical ways of placing the child at the centre of social mobility, at both the individual and the population level.

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