Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conceiving Parenthood

Below are some of the more interesting bits from my review one of the best books I've read since coming to Fuller:

Amy Laura Hall. Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction.

"Riffing on Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," Amy Laura Hall brings her own brand of penetrating sociological analysis to bear on important shifts in cultural authority during the last century. Using image exegesis of cultural artifacts as varied as advertising and women's magazines, Hall argues that the ascendancy of scientific authority in the domain of pro-creation (or "reproduction") brought with it a whole new narrative of justification for the old evils of racism, elitism, and the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable by the strong."

"Hall's evidence for this subtle manipulation of public perception seems at first to be slight, even at times, overly imaginative or interpretive. The advertisements from last century over which she labors are, after all, from a "simpler era." Is it fair to impose upon them an interpretive agenda from today when they were only trying to sell their products? And yet as she stacks up example after example of at times humorous, at times deeply disturbing images, we begin to accept her point. While the intent of the ad-men may have been to move units of 7-up (to be mixed with milk for baby's bottle) or Lysol brand disinfectant (for the maintenance of "intimate daintiness dependent on effective douching") they are harnessing strong currents within the culture and in so doing, shaping and reinforcing public perception. A culture's ads, it seems, are an effective barometer for its values."

"It is in the breadth of materials she takes in and the insight she applies to them that Hall truly distinguishes herself. Rather than restricting herself to researching academic analyses of the era, she digs into the primary documents with an eye that sees through the surface to the large arcs of social pressure that lie behind both turn of the century soap ads as well as eerily subversive pharmaceutical ads. Both are animated by the creation of a story in which there is a desirable "normal" the consumer may achieve by means of Ivory or Ritalin in contrast to the shameful, abnormal child that is dirty, messy and less than expected."

"It might seem strange that such a book could help a beleaguered parent struggling to balance the demands of family, work, school and church but Amy Laura Hall's book has helped me to re-orient my own perspective of my role as a Christian parent. First Hall's book has reminded me that embrace of children is embrace of chaos. In contrast to the "normalcy" promoted by the ads she profiles, children are by nature, untidy, disorderly, weak and needy. And yet in that chaos there is also joy, love, creativity, and new life: pro-creation. The impact of this in my relationship with my three and a half year old daughter, Eleanor, is that I am reminded that her need for play, my attention, affirmation, patience and kindness are not simply an inconvenience, detracting from my worthwhile goals and pursuits. Instead they are an opportunity to receive her as a gift from God; to collaborate with God in the creation of this new being as she unfolds in all her vibrant life."

If you're intrigued you can read more of my review or better yet, the book!

1 comment:

  1. "embrace of children is embrace of chaos", I love that quote. Thanks for your insights and constant encouragement:)


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