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  • Author or Editor: Stuart Waiton x
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In general, and specifically through the development, or obsession, with early intervention, at the level of policy discourse, the autonomous family has disappeared in the UK. The Victorian approach to the family and intervention is contrasted with social policy developments in the twenty first century as a way of illustrating the new post-liberal approach to parenting, one predicated upon a diminished sense of parental capacity and an expectation of necessary support for all families and poor families in particular.

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In 2008, I suggested that the concept ‘moral panic’ was, in many respects, past its ‘sell-by’ date; the idea of amoral panic was offered as an alternative (Waiton, 2008). My analysis was based on the following observations:

  • the use of morality is declining as a framework for panics

  • the importance of amoral categories like ‘risk’ and ‘safety’ as central tenets of panics is growing

  • individuals are engaged with as diminished subjects

  • old ‘moral’ institutions are undermined rather than shored up by these panics

  • ‘panics’ are normalised and institutionalised.

In this chapter, I will take this argument further by examining the transformation that has been taking place in ‘The Family’, an institution once central to moral panic theorising, associated with moral values and understood and defended as something that was ‘at the heart of society’ (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1994, p 8). I pose the question: to what extent is the ‘future of the nuclear family’ the basis for panics today (Cohen, 2011, p xxii)? In particular, I look at the way the idea of the ‘autonomous family’ has all but disappeared from government and policy discussions of the family, and conclude by suggesting that we need to understand the rise and rise of ‘early intervention’ policies and initiatives as an illustration of the amoral panic that has developed around the family in the 21st century.

The opening sentence of the UK government’s document Next Steps for Early Learning and Child Care, published in 2009, reads: ‘Everyone agrees that the first few months and years are the most important in a child’s life.

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The promotion of respect in society, like the concern about anti-social behaviour, engages with issues that on the one hand are relatively small or insignificant — dropping litter or not saying ‘thank you’, for example. The ‘ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) agenda’ in the United Kingdom has been criticised for its authoritarian dynamic — especially by those on the left. However, even for critics there appears to be an uncertainty about the nature of behaviour today and a certain sense that there are some real problems to be addressed. Some, for example, believe that we are living in a ‘culture of greed’ — a belief that raises questions not only about capitalism and consumerism, but also about the very nature of relationships between people — indeed about the nature of people themselves. This chapter argues that there are some new problems to address today, but that the problem we face is ultimately not one of an anti-social society but of an asocial society. It looks at Tony Blair’s ‘Respect Agenda’ and the politics of behaviour, along with the so-called therapeutic me.

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