I am the Director of one of the Research Centres in SSPSSR (the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies) and Reader in Social Policy.
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.
Cornwallis North East
University of Kent
Kent CT2 7NF
Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository
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.
- 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 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.back to top
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)back to top
- I co-ordinate the work of Pro-Choice Forum.
- Director of the Institute of Ideas and editor of book series “Debating Matters”.
- BBC Newsnight on ‘early intervention’ (September 2011)
- Read more broadcast and print commentary here.
BBC Radio 4: Woman’s Hour appearances
- Alcohol and Pregnancy, 22 June 2010
- Late abortions, 22 April 2007
- Teenage pregnancy, 6 September 2006
- The politics of surnames, 8 August 2006
- Sure Start – Success or Failure, 30th November 2005
- Has the pro-abortion debate moved on? 14 April 2004,
- Pathologising parenthood, 28 January 2004
- The politics of abortion, 17 January 2003
Radio and video clips
- Brain Sex, Do men and women think differently? November 2011
- Doting Dads, November 2010
- Three’s a crowd? The battle over population, November 2009
- Am I normal? Postnatal depression, March 2009
- Life Matters (Australia) June 2007
Written comment for Spiked-online.com
- The tyranny of parental determinism, 24 August 2011
- FAS: the gestation of a dubious idea, 16 June 2011
- Giving women ‘constrained choice’, not real choice, February 2011
- Breast is best? Let mothers decide, 6 December 2010
- The myth of male postnatal depression, 4 October 2010
- The de-moralisation of a woman’s right to choose, 16 October 2008
- Abort these lazy anti-choice arguments, 2 November 2006
- Is bottle feeding a mark of bad motherhood?, 21 July 2005
- Where are the schoolgirl mothers?, 25 March 2004
- Whatever happened to the University?, 15 July 2003
- Pathologising childbirth, 3 June 2003
- Debating ‘designer babies’, 17 April 2003
- The deciding factor, 19 June 2002
Dr Ellie Lee
Sex in the brain: do men and women think differently?