Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Making sense of the social world



I am the Director of one of the Research Centres in SSPSSR (the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies) and Professor of Family and Parenting Research.

My research explores why everyday issues, for example, how mothers feed their babies, turn into major preoccupations for policy makers and become heated topics of wider public debate. The work I do draws on constructionist theories of social problems and sociological concepts such as “risk consciousness” and “medicalisation” to analyse the evolution of family policy and health policy.

My longest standing research area is abortion policy and provision. Over the past decade I have also led research projects funded by organisations including the Economic and Social Research Council about feeding babies, ‘no drinking’ advice for pregnant women, welfare of the child assessments in IVF clinics, and ‘neuroparenting’ policies.

I am the author of Abortion, Motherhood, and Mental Health: Medicalizing Reproduction in the US and Britain (Aldine Transaction 2003) and the co-author of Parenting Culture Studies (Palgrave 2014) and my articles have appeared in journals including Sociology of Health and Illness, Health, Risk and Society and Families, Relationships and Society.

In 2010, with colleagues from The University of Kent, set up the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, based in SSPSSR. I’m also a Director of the Institute of Ideas and I frequently discuss my research in the media, read more here or see my activity tab.

I joined SSPSSR as a member of staff in 2004, having researched my PhD thesis in the late 1990s as a student in the Centre for Women’s Studies in the school. From 2000 to 2004, I was a lecturer at Southampton University and then a research fellow there working on a study about teenage pregnancy and abortion.


Contact Information


Room CNE113
Cornwallis North East
University of Kent
Kent CT2 7NF

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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

Lee, E., Sheldon, S. and Macvarish, J. (2018). The 1967 Abortion Act fifty years on: Abortion, medical authority and the law revisited. Social Science and Medicine [Online] 212:26-32. Available at:
Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2017). 'After the 'need for….a father': 'The welfare of the child' and 'supportive parenting' in UK assisted conception clinics'. Families, Relationships and Societies [Online] 6:71-87. Available at:
Lee, E. (2017). Constructing abortion as a social problem: "Sex selection" and the British abortion debate. Feminism and Psychology [Online] 27:15-33. Available at:
Lee, E., Sutton, R. and Hartley, B. (2016). From scientific paper to press release to media coverage: Advocating alcohol abstinence and democratising risk in a story about alcohol and pregnancy. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 18:247-269. Available at:
Sheldon, S., Lee, E. and Macvarish, J. (2015). 'Supportive Parenting', Responsibility and Regulation: The Welfare Assessment under the Reformed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990). The Modern Law Review [Online] 78:461-492. Available at:
Lowe, P., Lee, E. and Macvarish, J. (2015). Growing better brains? Pregnancy and neuroscience discourses in English social and welfare policies. Health, Risk & Society [Online]. Available at:
Macvarish, J., Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2015). Neuroscience and family policy: What becomes of the parent? Critical Social Policy [Online]:1-22. Available at:
Lowe, P., Lee, E. and Macvarish, J. (2015). Biologising parenting: neuroscience discourse, English social and public health policy and understandings of the child. Sociology of Health & Illness [Online]. Available at: 10.1111/1467-9566.12223.
Macvarish, J., Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2014). The 'First Three Years' Movement and the Infant Brain: A Review of Critiques. Sociology Compass [Online] 8:792-804. Available at:
Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2014). Assessing Child Welfare under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008: A Case Study in Medicalization? Sociology of Health & Illness [Online] 36:500-515. Available at:
Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2013). The role of counsellors in infertility clinics. BioNews [Online]. Available at:
Lee, E. (2013). Whither Abortion Policy in Britain? Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare [Online] 39:5-8. Available at:
Lee, E. (2011). Breast-feeding advocacy, risk society and health moralism: a decade's scholarship. Sociology Compass [Online] 5:1058-1069. Available at:
Lee, E. and Ingham, R. (2010). Why do women present late for abortion. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology [Online] 24:479-489. Available at:
Faircloth, C. and Lee, E. (2010). Introduction: 'Changing Parenting Culture'. Sociological Research Online [Online] 15. Available at:
Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Bristow, J. (2010). Risk, health and parenting culture. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 12:293-300. Available at:
Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2010). Advocating alcohol abstinence to pregnant women: Some observations about British policy. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 12:301-311. Available at:
Lowe, P., Lee, E. and Yardley, L. (2010). Under the influence? The construction of foetal alcohol syndrome in UK newspapers. Sociological Research Online [Online] 15:2. Available at:
Lee, E., Ingham, R. and Clements, S. (2008). Reasons for second trimester abortion in England and Wales. Reproductive Health Matters [Online] 16:18-29. Available at:
Lee, E. (2008). Living with risk in the age of 'intensive motherhood': Maternal identity and infant feeding. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 10:467-477. Available at:
Ingham, R. et al. (2008). Reasons for Second Trimester Abortions in England and Wales. Reproductive Health Matters [Online] 16:18-29. Available at:
Lee, E. (2007). Health, morality, and infant feeding: British mothers' experiences of formula milk use in the early weeks. Sociology of Health & Illness [Online] 29:1075-1090. Available at:
Lee, E. (2007). Infant feeding in risk society. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 9:295-309. Available at:
Lee, E. (2006). Medicalizing Motherhood. Society [Online] 43:47-50. Available at:
Lee, E. (2005). Debating late abortion: time to tell the truth. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare [Online] 31:7-9. Available at:
Lee, E. (2004). Young women, pregnancy and abortion in Britain: a discussion of law 'in practice'. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family [Online] 18:283-304. Available at:
Lee, E. (2003). Tensions in the Regulation of Abortion in Britain. Journal of Law and Society [Online] 30:532-553. Available at:
Lee, E. (2000). II. Young people's attitudes to abortion for abnormality. Feminism & Psychology [Online] 10:396-399. Available at:
Book section
Macvarish, J., Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2016). Understanding the Rise of Neuroparenting. in: We need to talk about family : Essays on Neoliberalism, the Family and Popular Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 95-117.
Lee, E. (2013). Afterword in Parenting in Global Perspective: Negotiating Ideologies of Kinship, Self and Politics. in: Faircloth, C., Hoffman, D. M. and Layne, L. L. eds. Parenting in Global Perspective: Negotiating Ideologies of Kinship, Self and Politics. Taylor & Francis Ltd, pp. 244-248. Available at:
Lee, E. (2011). Infant feeding and the problems of policy. in: Liamputtong, P. ed. Infant Feeding Practices; A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Springer-Verlag New York Inc., pp. 77-94. Available at:
Lee, E. (2010). Abortion in the Twentieth Century in England. in: Brockliss, L. and Montgomery, H. eds. Childhood and Violence in the Western Tradition. Oxford: Oxbow Books. Available at:
Lee, E. and Bristow, J. (2009). Rules for Infant Feeding. in: Day-Sclater, S., Richards, M. and Jackson, E. eds. Regulating Autonomy, Sex reproduction and the family. Oxford: Hart, pp. 73-92.
Lee, E. (2009). Pathologising fatherhood: the case of male Post Natal Depression in Britain. in: Gough, B. and Robertson, S. eds. Men, Masculinities and Health: critical perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 161-177.
Lee, E. (2008). Abortion. in: Cane, P. and Conaghan, J. eds. The New Oxford Companion to Law. Oxford University Press.
Lee, E. and Frayn, E. (2008). The Feminization of Health. in: Wainwright, D. ed. A Sociology of Health. London: Sage, pp. 115-133. Available at:
Lee, E. (2006). The abortion debate today. in: Biggs, H. and Horsey, K. eds. Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Reproducing Regulation. London: Routledge, pp. 231-250. Available at:
Lee, E. (2005). Women's Need for Abortion in Britain. in: Glasier, A., Wellings, K. and Critchley, H. eds. Contraception and Contraceptive Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press RCOG Press, pp. 33-43.
Lee, E. (2002). Psychologizing Abortion: Women's "Mental Health" and the Regulation of Abortion in Britain. in: Morris, A. E. and Nott, S. M. eds. Well Women: The Gendered Nature of Health Care Provision. Ashgate Publishing Group, pp. 61-78.
Lee, E. and Jackson, E. (2002). The Pregnant Body. in: Evans, M. and Lee, E. J. eds. Real Bodies: A Sociological Introduction. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 115-132. Available at:
Lee, E. (2001). Post-abortion syndrome: reinventing abortion as a social problem. in: Best, J. ed. How Claims Spread: Cross-National Diffusion of Social Problems. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, pp. 39-68.
David, H. and Lee, E. (2001). Abortion and its Health Effects. in: Waller, J. ed. The Encyclopedia of Gender. New York: Academic Press, pp. 1-14.
Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2012). Assessing Child Welfare Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: The new law. Summary of findings. University of Kent. Available at:
Ingham, R. et al. (2007). Second-trimester abortions in England and Wales. Centre for Sexual Health Research, University of Southampton. Available at:
Lee, E. and Furedi, F. (2005). Mothers' experience of, and attitudes to, the use of infant formula for feeding babies. SSPSSR.
Conference or workshop item
Lee, E. (2015). Constructing abortion as a social problem: the case of 'sex selection' in the English abortion debate. in: Society for the Study of Social Problems.
Lee, E. (2015). Making Parents? Human reproduction and family life in contemporary society. in: British Sociological Asscociation Human Reproduction Study Group Annual Conference.
Lee, E. (2014). The 'sex selection'controversy in Britain: where does it leave abortion law and practice? in: Resituating Abortion Conference.
Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Lowe, P. (2013). Biologising Parenting: Neuroscience Discourse and English Social and Public Health Policy. in: Uses and Abuses of Biology.. Available at:
Lee, E. (2012). Drinking in Pregnancy and the politics of Parenting. in: Progress Education Trust Annual Conference.
Lee, E. (2011). Health Care policies concerning the family and their effects on the moral understanding of the family. in: Symposium "Between Relational Autonomy and Trust".
Lee, E. et al. (2014). Parenting Culture Studies. [Online]. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Available at:
Lee, E. (2003). Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health: The Medicalization of Reproduction in the U.S. and Britain. [Online]. New York: Aldine Transaction. Available at:,-Motherhood,-and-Mental-Health-978-0-202-30681-0.html.
Edited book
Lee, E.J. ed. (2002). Designer Babies: Where Should We Draw the Line?. London: Hodder Arnold.
Lee, E.J. ed. (2002). Abortion: Whose Right?. London: Hodder Arnold H&S.
Evans, M. and Lee, E.J. eds. (2002). Real Bodies, a sociological introduction. [Online]. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Available at:
Lee, E.J. ed. (2002). Teenage Sex: What Should Schools Teach Children?. London: Hodder Arnold H&S.
Lee, E.J. ed. (1998). Abortion Law and Politics Today. [Online]. Macmillan. Available at:
Research report (external)
Lee, E. and Furedi, F. (2009). Review of the effectiveness of the controls on infant formula and follow-on formula, Literature Review. The Food Standards Agency.
Ingham, R. and Lee, E. (2008). Evaluation of Early Medical Abortion (EMA) pilot sites. [Online]. Department of Health. Available at:
Lee, E. et al. (2004). A Matter of Choice?: Explaining National Variations in Teenage Abortion and Motherhood. [Online]. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at:
Macvarish, J. and Lee, E. (2019). Constructions of parents in ACEs discourse. Social Policy and Society.
Total publications in KAR: 62 [See all in KAR]
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Research Interests

Research interests

I began my research career in the late 1990s. Based in the Women’s Studies Centre at Kent University, I researched a PhD thesis that considered the development and effects of the claim made by those who oppose legal abortion that many women suffer from a “post abortion syndrome” after they terminate a pregnancy.

I was intrigued by this claim because it seemed to suggest that a moral argument (that abortion is wrong) had given way to an apparently medical argument (that abortion makes women ill). I wanted to know why this had happened and whether this sort of argument against abortion had influenced abortion law and policy-making.

I completed my PhD in 2000, but this work led me on a journey in the following couple of years that encompassed comparative analysis of the abortion issue in the US and Britain; an investigation of what has been termed “the syndrome society”; and a consideration of the ways in the emotional effects birth and the early stages of parenthood have been “medicalised’.

I became more and more influenced by social constructionist sociology, in particular by what has been termed “contextual constructionism”, and persuaded by the insights this approach offers for understanding social problems and the development of policy.

The outcome of this work and thinking was published in 2003 as Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health: Medicalizing Reproduction in the U.S. and Britain (Aldine Transaction), but I have carried on thinking and writing about the issues discussed in it in the subsequent years. I have more recently researched and written about social problems including ‘late’ and ‘early’ abortion, assisted conception, maternal and paternal mental health, infant feeding, and alcohol and pregnancy.


In 2007 I decided, in collaboration with colleagues in SSPSSR, to try and develop a research network concerned with the way “parenting” has been constructed as a social problem in Britain and in many other countries. This has turned into an energetic and energising project, leading us to establish the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, based in SSPSSR in 2011.

My research for now will continue to focus on “parenting culture” and I am interested in initiating/collaborating on work about any of the following themes:

  • The medicalisation of parenthood
  • Risk consciousness and parenting culture
  • Gender and parenting: the “intensification” of fatherhood
  • The management of emotion in pregnancy and parenthood
  • The politics of parenting culture
  • The policing of pregnancy and reproductive choices
  • The moralisation of parenting practices.

Research projects

  • Assessing Child Welfare under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: the new law (ESRC funded)

The research team includes Dr Ellie Lee, Professor Sally Sheldon and Dr Jan Macvarish from the University of Kent.

  • Infant feeding in the age of “intensive parenthood”

The first phase of this project involved a study of mothers' experiences of infant feeding (funded by IDFA). Read a summary of research findings here or the full report here.

The second phase comprised a conference held at the University of Kent in May 2007. Read more here.

The third phase (on-going) is a socio-cultural study of the historical evolution of the infant feeding problem.

Past research projects

  • The Construction of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in British Newspapers (British Academy funded, with Pam Lowe, Aston University).

Outputs of the study to date include papers given at the British Sociological Association annual conference, the “Mother Wars” conference, and the ESRC seminar series Changing Parenting Culture, and articles published in Health, Risk and Society and Sociological Research Online.

  • Changing Parenting Culture (ESRC funded, seminar series)
    Read more here.
  • 'Late' abortion in England and Wales
    Read more here.
  • A Matter of Choice? Influences on young women's decisions about abortion or motherhood’ (funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation)
    Read more here.


If you want to research any aspect of social or policy developments related to reproductive health, motherhood or parenting, and want to study at the University of Kent then get in touch.

I have built up experience through doing a number of studies about policy developments on these areas, and about people's experience of making choices about these aspects of their lives. This means I have a lot of experience in qualitative research.

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I teach the following modules:

  • The Family, Parenting Culture and Parenting Policy (postgraduate, Masters)
  • Health, Illness and Medicine (undergraduate)
  • Reproductive Health Policy in Britain (undergraduate)
  • The Sociology and social politics of the family (undergraduate)
  • Research Dissertation (undergraduate)
  • Social Problems and Social Policy (undergraduate)

I offer research supervision at all levels (MPhil/PhD, MA/MSc, undergraduate)

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Professional activities

TV appearances

  • BBC Newsnight on ‘early intervention’ (September 2011)

  • Read more broadcast and print commentary here.

BBC Radio 4: Woman’s Hour appearances

Radio and video clips

Written comment for

Online comment

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Dr Ellie Lee


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Websites of interest in this field


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Telephone: +44(0)1227 823072 Fax: +44(0)1227 827005 or email us

SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 13/02/2019