This research project will look at the values attaches to alternative milks for children and infants – defined as plant-based (soy, almond, chestnut, etc.) and non-cow dairy milks (goat, camel, donkey, etc.) – and focus on the Swiss context. Infant and child feeding have rightly been analysed as exemplary domains of what parenting culture studies have named the « intensive mothering » culture, as mothers are under pressure to devote substantial time and energy to the provision of good-quality food for their offspring. Recent scholarship suggests that this intensive mothering culture is being reinforced under the influence of global social movements such as environmentalism and the animal rights movement, which translate into even more maternal work by complexifying consumption choices.
In Western societies, modernisation and the de-traditionalisation of society has brought profound changes to gender relations, increased women’s rights and their participation in the workforce. However, parenting culture studies have shown that, despite these transformations, mothers are under increasing social pressure to engage in labour-intensive, child-centred, expert-led parenting, even more than fathers. This “intensive mothering” culture poses a challenge to gender equality, with women still torn between work and family. Infant and child feeding have rightly been analysed as exemplary domains of intensive mothering, as mothers are under pressure to devote substantial time and energy to the provision of good-quality food for their offspring. Recent scholarship suggests that this intensive mothering culture is being reinforced under the influence of global social movements such as environmentalism and the animal rights movement, which translate into even more maternal work by complexifying consumption choices. More research is needed to understand the gendered consequences of these social movements. The influence of class also needs analysis, as environmentalist and animal rights movements are frequently criticised for reproducing social inequalities, and so does the articulation of national identity with child feeding choices, given the importance of food in the discursive construction of nations.This research projects aims to fill gaps in parenting culture studies with a qualitative case study of the meanings attached to alternative milks - defined as plant-based (soy, almond, chestnut, etc.) and non-cow dairy milks (goat, camel, donkey, etc.) - for infants and children in Switzerland. The first research axis aims at mapping the values attached to different alternative milks by analysing (RQ1) how they articulate with one another and (RQ2) how they specifically relate to environmental and/or animal rights concerns. The second research axis investigates the articulation of infant and child feeding with gender, class and nation by asking (RQ3) how maternal and paternal roles figure into the discursive comparison of alternative milks and (RQ4) how alternative milks support social distinction based on class and the construction of national identity. Switzerland is an excellent site for such a case study because a controversy has been developing during the last fifteen years around the use of alternative milks and given the symbolic importance of (cow’s) milk in Switzerland’s national identity. This will be achieved by triangulating three types of data covering social uses of alternative milks: documents relative to (1) the promotion of alternative milks (packaging and marketing material), (2) expert advice on milk choices (documents, interviews with experts and observation of classes) and (3) everyday practices (interviews with parents). My aim is to generate new typologies and concepts that will reflect contemporary parenting choices.My project will make crucial contributions to the understanding of contemporary parenting norms and how they contribute to the reproduction of inequalities, at a time when the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic are worsening gender and social inequities in Switzerland and around the world. It will also contribute to the booming development of environmental humanities. Health professionals are also eager to understand alternative approaches to parenting; this project can thus contribute to more effective (public) health communication and care.
Research project information
Nationalism – homonationalism – femonationalism
Ecology – environment – sustainability
Reproduction – childbearing
Animals – speciesism – antispeciesism
Childhood – adolescence
Health – medicine
Social Anthropology, Sociology, Gender Studies