Growing better brains? Pregnancy and neuroscience discourses in English social and welfare policies


In recent years, English welfare and health policy has started to include pregnancy within the foundation stage of child development. The foetus is also increasingly designated as ‘at risk’ from pregnant women. In this article, we draw on an analysis of a purposive sample of English social and welfare policies and closely related advocacy documents to trace the emergence of neuroscientific claims-making in relation to the family. In this article, we show that a specific deterministic understanding of the developing brain that only has a loose relationship with current scientific evidence is an important component in these changes. We examine the ways in which pregnancy is situated in these debates. In these debates, maternal stress is identified as a risk to the foetus; however, the selective concern with women living in disadvantage undermines biological claims. The policy claim of neurological ‘critical windows’ also seems to be influenced by social concerns. Hence, these emerging concerns over the foetus’ developing brain seem to be situated within the gendered history of policing women’s pregnant bodies rather than acting on new insights from scientific discoveries. By situating these developments within the broader framework of risk consciousness, we can link these changes to wider understandings of the ‘at risk’ child and intensified surveillance over family life.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Policy
College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities
College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities > Centre for Critical Inquiry into Society and Culture (CCISC)
Additional Information: © 2015 The Author(s). Published by Taylor & Francis. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: family policy,foetal development,maternal stress,neuroscience,pregnancy,risk,risk consciousness,Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
Publication ISSN: 1469-8331
Full Text Link: http://wwww.tan ... 575.2014.994479
Related URLs: http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2015
Published Online Date: 2015-01-06
Accepted Date: 2014-11-18
Authors: Lowe, Pam (ORCID Profile 0000-0001-5933-453X)
Lee, Ellie
Macvarish, Jan



Version: Published Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

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