Biologising parenting: neuroscience discourse, English social and public health policy and understandings of the child

Pam Lowe*, Ellie Lee, Jan Macvarish

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, claims about children's developing brains have become central to the formation of child health and welfare policies in England. While these policies assert that they are based on neuro-scientific discoveries, their relationship to neuroscience itself has been debated. However, what is clear is that they portray a particular understanding of children and childhood, one that is marked by a lack of acknowledgment of child personhood. Using an analysis of key government-commissioned reports and additional advocacy documents, this article illustrates the ways that the mind of the child is reduced to the brain, and this brain comes to represent the child. It is argued that a highly reductionist and limiting construction of the child is produced, alongside the idea that parenting is the main factor in child development. It is concluded that this focus on children's brains, with its accompanying deterministic perspective on parenting, overlooks children's embodied lives and this has implications for the design of children's health and welfare services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-211
Number of pages14
JournalSociology of health and illness
Issue number2
Early online date16 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

© 2015 The Authors. Sociology of Health & Illness © 2015 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Funding: Faraday Institute.


  • child development
  • neuroscience
  • parenting
  • policy analysis


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