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Customer Review

on September 7, 2008
Dr. Halley has written a unique, critical and thought provoking review of advice given by experts over the last 100 years to mothers about what is the best way to raise one's child. She attends primarily to breastfeeding, sleeping with one's child and touch. Dr. Halley's critique is informed by Foucault's theories of power and her assertion of a mind-body split in the theories of experts giving advice. She argues for recognition of the ambiguity and complexity in raising children rather than adopting ideological positions about what is the 'best' way to parent. This is a well written, scholarly book that is eminently readable and accessible. It is not overwhelmed with academic apparatus.
There were some distracting elements in this work. Dr. Halley is careful to assert that she is 'less interested in 'truths'' than in highlighting the power dynamics of how certain positions are regarded as true. 'p.7' This is fine and well but she repeatedly makes judgments,i.e. something is good or bad/ true or untrue without ever making clear the basis for her judgments. For instance on p.122 she declares one expert 'out of touch with reality' after she has been so careful to maintain that there is no one 'reality', and that reality is culturally constructed p. 160-62.
One distracting aspect was Dr. Halley's asserting something she calls 'Western tradition' p.151. Relying on a theorist Susan Bordo, Dr. Halley asserts that the mind/body split that child advice experts embody is the consequence of 'Western Tradition' which she conflates with 'Greco-Christian' tradition'p.9' & 'Judeo-Christian' 'p.10'. She merely asserts the existence of 'Western-Greco-Judeo-Christian' tradition as if there was such a thing- when was the last time you met a 'Western-Greco-Judeo-Christian'?- and as if it were some self-evident monolith.
The author points out religion at several points during the book. She self-identifies as being part of 'three generations of Irish Catholic women' p. 139 but never indicates what being or apparently used to be Irish Catholic has to do with her analysis or situation. She conflates protestants and Catholics together in her discussion and critique of the Le Leche league as if they were the same thing.
As I read Dr. Halley's book these techniques seemed like this was just an artifice to discredit all prior culture in the west and rely on enlightenment and post modernist western culture instead. This seems naively unnuanced to the point of stereotype and caricature and surprising from someone who asserts the need for the recognition of nuance and ambiguity in child rearing.
Lastly, Dr. Halley's analysis rightly wants to focus attention on social power and political structures that cause, maintain and perpetuate poverty for women and children. This clearly has a far greater effect on the lives of children than whether or not a child is breast fed or not. However, this concern of Dr. Halley's seems to prevent her from also emphasizing the personal in child raising. For instance on page 8, Dr. Halley tells a story of how one woman did not want to breast feed because of how it made her breasts feel/ look and that another woman stated 'That is so selfish'. Dr. Halley never addresses this other than to say there is no room for dissent with regard to breastfeeding. However, it is entirely possible that this was selfish. Maybe it wasn't. However Dr. Halley's analysis and concern for the political seems to leave no room or language for confronting selfishness or other personal deficiencies that also effect children.
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