Neuroscience and family policy: what becomes of the parent?

Jan Macvarish*, Ellie Lee, Pam Lowe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article discusses the findings of a study tracing the incorporation of claims about infant brain development into English family policy as part of the longer term development of a ‘parent training’, early intervention agenda. The main focus is on the ways in which the deployment of neuroscientific discourse in family policy creates the basis for a new governmental oversight of parents. We argue that advocacy of ‘early intervention’, in particular that which deploys the authority of ‘the neuroscience’, places parents at the centre of the policy stage but simultaneously demotes and marginalises them. So we ask, what becomes of the parent when politically and culturally, the child is spoken of as infinitely and permanently neurologically vulnerable to parental influence? In particular, the policy focus on parental emotions and their impact on infant brain development indicates that this represents a biologisation of ‘therapeutic’ governance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-269
Number of pages22
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number2
Early online date26 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015

Bibliographical note

© Sage 2015. The final publication is available via Sage at


  • early intervention
  • family policy
  • neuroscience
  • parenting
  • therapy culture


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