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Defensive optimism: parental aspirations and the prospect of state-enforced child removal in Britain

Davey, Ryan ORCID: 2023. Defensive optimism: parental aspirations and the prospect of state-enforced child removal in Britain. Anthropological Quarterly 96 (3) , pp. 409-436. 10.1353/anq.2023.a905298

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In 2010s Britain, expectations for parents living on low incomes to pursue aspirations for their children's upward social mobility converged with a concentration of forcible child protection interventions in so-called "deprived" neighborhoods. This article explores the subjectivities of parents, mainly women, living on one such housing estate [housing project] in England by critically engaging Berlant's theories of optimism and intimacy. The overtly aspirational practices by which parents there sought better lives for their children are inseparable from those parents' attempts to dispel their fears of their children being removed. While the immediate prospect of child removal provoked one woman to forego an express will to retain custody, the remoter possibility of the same event incited others to comply with parental norms to which they did not subscribe or to reaffirm their existing parental aspirations ever more vocally. Conceptually the article argues that optimism can sometimes be defensive rather than aspirational, especially in the face of lawful expropriations, and that these two forms of optimism—aspirational and defensive—may interact with and reinforce one another. The article extends Berlant's analysis by showing the involvement of coercive legal force in the processes by which people cling onto hopes that wear them down. When faced with the possible expropriation of the object of an intimate attachment, people's attempts to hold onto that object may also involve reasserting the aspirations which the attachment makes possible. This suggests that research into optimism, aspirations and ethical self-formation has much to gain from careful attention to people's mundane expectations of violence and loss.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Publisher: The George Washington University
ISSN: 0003-5491
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 2 February 2023
Date of Acceptance: 16 April 2022
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 11:51

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