'The Basic Stuff of Our Memories': Embodying and Embedding Discipline

by Julie Brownlie
Stirling University

Sociological Research Online, Volume 11, Issue 4,

Received: 5 Jun 2006     Accepted: 14 Oct 2006    Published: 31 Dec 2006


In recent political debates about physical chastisement, children have been positioned as 'potential' selves and have had their bodies mapped in specific ways. This article compares these discourses with findings from a study of parents' views of proposed legislation on physical discipline. It is argued that parents' talk about physical discipline is temporal not only because it is concerned with the nature of the child's body/self at the time of punishment but because parents engage with memories from their own childhood and, therefore, with how childhood selves have been disciplined across social and biographical time. Drawing on sociological work on the body, memory and childhood, the article explores two aspects of disciplinary practices - their embodied and embedded nature – which, to date, have been under researched and under theorised in debates about physical chastisement.

Keywords: Childhood, Bodies, Physical Chastisement, Legal Discourses, Memory


'For every man and woman, the control of children is a part of real experience: for all of us, the basic stuff of our memories' (Newson and Newson, 1968: 387)
1.1 In recent political debates about physical chastisement, children have been positioned as future selves and have had their bodies 'zoned' in particular ways. Comparing these discourses with findings from a research study of parental accounts of disciplinary practices, this article explores how these dominant temporal and physical mappings fit with parents' understandings of their children and their accounts of disciplining them. It is argued that parents' talk about physical discipline is temporal not only because it is concerned with the nature of the child's body/self at the time of punishment but because parents engage with memories from their own childhood and, therefore, with how childhood selves have been disciplined across social and biographical time. Drawing on sociological work on the body, memory and childhood to understand how disciplinary practices are constructed allows for two under researched aspects of these practices - their embodied and embedded nature - to be investigated. In what follows, I do this by exploring how children's bodies have been constructed in political debates about physical chastisement in the UK and, through drawing on a research study which looked at how parents themselves think about discipline. I begin by outlining the methodology of this study in more detail.

Project methodology

2.1 In September 2002, just after a proposed age-related ban on physical chastisement had failed to become legislation in Scotland, the Scottish Executive – devolved government in Scotland - published research it had commissioned on parental practices and beliefs about physical chastisement. The data from this research form the basis for the present article[1]. The first stage of the research, which preceded the survey element, consisted of a series of 20 qualitative interviews (involving 85 parents) across Scotland (see table 1).

2.2 These interviews were equally divided between individual depth interviews; interviews with couples; conventional focus groups; and 'peer' focus groups[2]. The focus groups consisted of 6 to 8 individuals and all interviews lasted approximately 1 hour. The moderators for the focus groups introduced a series of topics which offered a rough structure for the discussion. These included general orientation towards issues of discipline; parents' own experience of physical discipline as children; assessment of effectiveness - and impact - of disciplinary practices; and perception of prevalence of use of different forms of physical chastisement among peers and society at large. Qualitative methods are based on particular forms of interaction and data arising from such approaches are, therefore, likely to be shaped by these interactions (Kitzinger, 1994). The methodological implications of this might usefully be explored in more detail elsewhere; in this article the focus, in order to highlight previously neglected embodied aspects of disciplining, is on those themes which emerged strongly across interview context.

2.3 The aim of the sampling for the qualitative part of the study was not to generate a sample that was representative in a statistical sense but to ensure as wide a range of characteristics as possible were represented. Consequently, the sample was purposive in nature. A short screening questionnaire was used to recruit participants with particular characteristics, door to door. Key sampling variables included sex and socio-economic group and the sample was deliberately structured to include interviews with single parents. In terms of geographic focus, interviews of each type were carried out in different parts of Scotland. This ensured not only that rural and urban areas were included but that a wide geographical area was covered.

2.4 As the proposed ban on smacking was aimed at children aged under three, the qualitative sample was also segmented by age of child: parents with children aged under three and those with children aged three to 11 years. However, in practice, it was not possible to ensure that participants in the former group only had children aged under three. Further analysis on the basis of age, gender and class might be worthwhile though, as noted, this sample has limited scope in this respect.[3] All of the interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed and the software package QSR-N6 was then used to categorise, search and retrieve text. Data were analysed within and across cases in relation to emergent themes.

Table 1. Characteristics of the qualitative sample

*Other than for the interviews with couples, there was no restriction on whether parents were single parents or not. However, to ensure that single parents were included, we selected a single parent as the "lead" member of one of the peer groups and for one of the individual interviews.

2.5 The second stage of the research was quantitative in nature and took the form of a nationally-representative survey of 692 parents carried out in respondents' homes using Computer Aided Personal Interviewing (CAPI). The sampling for the survey was based on probability techniques involving the random selection of sampling points, of addresses within those points and of individuals for interview at those addresses. A response rate of 55% was achieved. As such, the achieved sample affords a reasonable basis for generalising to the views of parents in Scotland as a whole, though a number of caveats should be noted. First, the achieved sample was relatively small and is not large enough to support detailed sub group analysis. Second, there was a significant under-representation of fathers in the final sample (an indication perhaps that issues to do with parenting and discipline continue to be seen primarily as the responsibility of mothers) and, as a result, the data were weighted to correct for gender imbalance (using information about composition of Scottish households from the Scottish Household Survey). While there was a problem recruiting fathers for the quantitative part of the study, fathers were represented, in roughly similar numbers to mothers, across the qualitative study in individual, couple interviews and peer and conventional focus groups. Finally, the overall response rate among participating households is lower than for some household surveys but reflects the difficulties of identifying eligible households and of persuading fathers to take part.

2.6 The focus of the survey was wide ranging and included use of different forms of physical chastisement with own child in last week; perception of appropriateness of smacking in different situations for different age of children. While this article mainly draws on the qualitative data, where useful, reference is also made to the quantitative data. For example, in exploring parental beliefs about how to discipline children of different ages.

2.7 Before going on to explore what these data can tell us about how parents understand their disciplinary practices, I first engage with the question of how children's bodies have been discursively constructed through political debates about physical chastisement legislation.

Mapping the child's body

3.1 De Certeau (1984) suggests that the law inscribes all bodies, yet some bodies clearly find themselves more inscribed than others. Feminist legal theory has identified how the construction of the legal subject as a 'rational, autonomous, isolated, disembodied individual' (Bridgeman, 2002:100) allows the law not only to regulate, but to produce, particular female bodies. These are bodies which the law conflates with 'emotionality, irrationality, the material and natural' (Keywood, 2000: 499) and then fragments, reducing women to 'bits of their bodies' (Smart, 1989; 95).

3.2 Theorists have also begun to consider how legal discourses produce particular constructions of childhood and, relatedly, of children's bodies (McGillivray, 1997). Some constructions, for example most obviously in relation to child protection, position children as potential or actual victims, while others situate children as citizens, focusing either on their responsibilities (for example, the age of criminal responsibility, see Freeman, 1997) or, more rarely, on their rights, for example, in recent debates about the rights of the child to confidential contraception[4]. Therefore, while not applying uniformly to the law, in relation to some areas, the law , influenced by developmental psychology, can be thought of as positioning the child's body as a 'body with potential' (Bridgeman, 2002). The child, then becomes understood in terms of 'lack' - not yet physically mature and not yet competent - with the result that the law concerns itself with 'the future embodied by the child and without reference to his or her present experience' (Bridgeman, 2002: 100). In this context, Alderson (1994) points out, if children are understood to not yet be 'real selves', then it becomes possible to argue that 'there cannot be any real invasion, or integrity to violate' (1994: 47).

3.3 This focus on the productive nature of discourse draws on Foucault's understanding of the subject as constituted through the particular relationship between power and knowledge. Political and legal discourses are one means through which child subjects have become constituted and then monitored (Brownlie, 2001). To this extent, the body of the child can be 'disciplined' both in the sense that it becomes subject to surveillance as a result of knowledges emanating from sites such as parliaments or courts but also in the sense that it can become subject to the hierarchical and coercive power of adults. To some extent, the Foucauldian focus on disciplinary power in relation to children has led to an under estimation of the degree to which children remain subject to more traditional or - to use Foucault's term - sovereign forms of power. This reluctance to acknowledge the physical power adults and, in particular, parents, continue to have over children is not, however, restricted to Foucault's analysis: it is also apparent in other theoretical perspectives which focus on the democratisation of family life (Giddens, 1991). In this article, by looking at political discourses and parental accounts about chastising children, the interplay between disciplinary power and sovereign power in relation to physical chastisement is explored.[5]

3.4 What then do discourses about physical chastisement tell us about the disciplining of the child's body? While, as can be seen from the references above, the literature in this area often refers broadly to legal discourses, in fact, such discourses cover a range of practices, including both domestic and international legislation and case law. In what follows, therefore, while I make references to some of these practices, I focus on one particular aspect of legal discourses about physical chastisement in the UK – specifically, political debate about proposed legislation in this area.

'Instruments of punishment', 'body parts' and the 'time future': the physical chastisement of children

3.5 Legislation relating to physical chastisement has, as McGillivray puts it, allowed the child's body to be

'zoned and re-zoned in a maze of lines drawn around injury, reasonableness, gender, community standards, correctability, instruments of punishment and body parts' (McGillivray, 1997: 210).
As with legislation in relation to children's health (Bridgeman and Monk, 2000), these discourses fragment the child's body and, by focusing on the body primarily as a physical entity, perpetuate the Cartesian dualism between body and mind. In law, the focus of physical chastisement, McGillivray suggests, has been on body parts: children's hands – because of what the 'bad hand' has done - or buttocks because of the 'cushioning of fat and muscle' (1997: 224). Although reference is made to the emotional impact of physical chastisement, international law suggests this tends to relate to more extreme disciplinary behaviours[6] rather than to the shame, embarrassment and anger that might accompany 'everyday' disciplinary practices (see footnote 5). Such zoning or body mapping, McGillivray suggests, is not found in assault law in relation to adults.

3.6 The justification for this difference in how the law thinks about children and adults, she argues, is the 'tutorial' motive: the idea that parents have a responsibility to guide children towards appropriate adult behaviour and that physical chastisement is one tool for achieving this. The law, at least in the UK, is also clear, however, that it is parents, not teachers, who have the right to express this tutorial motive through physical chastisement. To this extent, we need to be aware of how the body of the chastiser, as much as the body of the child, comes to be inscribed by the law.

3.7 The law in relation to physical chastisement is concerned, then, in Mayall's (1998) terms, with the 'time future' not the 'time present' of children. The focus on lasting or permanent injury or harm as the legal standard for denying reasonable chastisement also points to children being understood in terms of their future subjectivity as an adult, rather than in terms of their having 'personal integrity' in the present: children as 'becoming' rather than 'being' (Brownlie, 2001; Mason, 2005).

3.8 Far from being 'a transcendental notion', how we think of harm changes with time and across cultures (Smart, 1999:393). Interpreting harm in relation to physical chastisement has also been a dynamic process; and, as well as legislation and case law , recent political debates on such legislation in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, can be read as part of this process. In 2003, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act came into force. Among other things, the Act amended the current law on the use of physical chastisement in Scotland. Since 1860, the law in Scotland - as in England and Wales - has allowed parents (or those acting on their behalf) to claim they were using 'reasonable chastisement' if charged with assault for physically punishing their child.[7] This new act allows for the continued use of physical chastisement - 'justifiable assault' - for all ages of children[8] but now explicitly bans the use of implements to discipline children, the shaking of children and blows to children's heads.

3.9 In the case of Scotland, the initial idea was that there should be of an age-related ban. This focused on the 'developmental time' (White, 1998) of children - on the idea that children below a certain age could 'surely not yet understand ideas of guilt and punishment' - though there was uncertainty about what this age was (Justice 2 Committee, 2002).[9] In the end, Scottish politicians moved away from such temporal and developmental uncertainties back to the familiar and more material territory of 'body parts' and 'instruments of punishment', and voted for a ban on the use of implements, on smacking children around the head and on shaking children.

3.10 Similarly, in England and Wales, after years of resisting change to the law on parental physical chastisement, the government allowed the issue to be raised as part of the proposed Children's Bill (Toynbee, 2004). The legislative changes for England and Wales, which came into effect in January 2005, focus on (re) defining reasonableness, mainly in terms of the impact of physical chastisement on the child's physical body – how 'transient' this impact is and whether or not a mark (for example, bruising, swelling, cut, scratch) is left on the child's body.[10] In relation to the possible emotional impact, however there is, again, little acknowledgement of the possible effect on the everyday emotional relationship between parents and children. In other words 'psychiatric injury' would be considered beyond transient but 'mere [emphasis added] emotions such as fear, distress or panic' (Lord Goldsmith, HL deb., 2004, col. 563) would not.

3.11 During the debating stage of the bill in the House of Lords, some dissenting voices raised the moral issue of whether children should be hit at all. Others, however, focused their anxieties on this issue of how to read harm from the physical body. Lord Gresford, for example, pointed out that some children will bruise more easily than others or 'may be hit in an area where bruising does not occur, but the pain is the same' (HL deb., 2004, col.531). Similar points were made in relation to the colour of children's skin - 'it takes a great deal of that type of smacking for the bruises to show on a black child' (Baroness Howells of St Davids, HL deb., 2004,col. 537) - and the fact that injuries may be internal and, therefore, not visible.

3.12 These anxieties, however, serve to emphasise the extent to which more holistic understandings of the harm/pain caused by physical chastisement - and the child's experience of this - are missing from political discourses about physical chastisement legislation and point to a continuing tendency to think about children's bodies in dualistic and fragmented terms and about children as potential 'real selves'.

3.13 To what extent, though, do parents share these understandings? As O'Malley (2004) has recently argued, how governing technologies are planned is not always how they are implemented. In this final section, through drawing on data from the Scottish study, parents' understandings are explored in more detail.

Parental accounts: embodying discipline, remembering discipline

4.1 This section engages further with the temporal and embodied themes that were identified above as infusing recent political discourses about physical chastisement in the UK. In the first part, drawing on the Scottish 2002 data, I explore parents' zoning work in relation to their children's bodies; and, in the second, I discuss how parents describe themselves as 'punishing adults' on the one hand, and as 'punished children' on the other. Here, as well as drawing on the Scottish data, I also draw on findings from other research studies. This allows for the voices of children who have experienced physical chastisement in the present and the voices of parents from the 1960s and 1970s - when many of the parents in our Scottish study would have been children – to be heard alongside the accounts of the Scottish parents. Finally, in the third part of this section, I draw on sociological work on memory as a further aid in reading parents' talk about parenting and disciplining

Mapping their children's bodies through 'developmental time'

4.2 Before exploring if, and how, parental accounts of disciplining children's bodies are similar to those found in political discourses noted earlier, it is worth asking how aware parents are of such discourses in the first place. In the 2002 Scottish study, there was a high level of awareness that the legal status of physical chastisement was under review, but also a great deal of confusion about the current and proposed legislation.[11] Despite this, parents did understand that the legislation was concerned with parts of children's bodies and with the age of those bodies. The following exchange is typical of parents' responses, across socio-economic groups, on this theme.

*Interviewer: what is the current law on smacking?

*It is not under three's. You're not allowed to smack under three's. Or is it over three's?

*I don't think you're allowed to smack them at all.

*You're not allowed to touch their head. I know that. But I would never touch the head anyway. [Female Focus group, Edinburgh, ABC1][12]

4.3 Unlike traditional accounts of parental punishment (Hazel et al, 2003), parents in the 2002 study are not comfortable talking about inflicting pain on their children - 'It is just a "stop that" it should not really hurt ' [Edinburgh couple, ABC1]. The focus of adult-child interaction, Mayall (1998) suggests, is a concern with civilising and regulating children's unruly selves. While she locates this regulative role as falling heavily on schools, our data suggest this maybe to underestimate the extent of the responsibility parents feel to control their children's bodies. In the 2002 study, the qualitative data makes clear that parents see the responsibility, and the right, to discipline resting with them. For example, even among those parents who are most strongly committed to the use of smacking, 69% say they would definitely not allow another parent they know well to smack their child.

4.4 Parents' zoning of their children's bodies in relation to physical chastisement, therefore, is based on a concern to gain control of these transgressive bodies/selves without causing physical pain or marking the external body of the child (Hazel et al's, 2003[13]). For these parents, 'safe' parts of the body - that is those parts that can be hit without causing harm – are the fleshier parts; unsafe parts are children's heads.

Yes the bum, the more fleshy parts. The sort of hand I have done that, and the thigh I did that tonight. But you don't do the head or anything like that. [Female peer group, Edinburgh, C2DE]

4.5 Parental talk about 'instruments of punishment' is also linked to a concern about marking or causing harm to the child's body and to the issue of what constitutes abuse/violence. The quantitative and qualitative data from the 2002 study makes clear that using implements to discipline chimes much more closely with most parents' views of what constitutes abuse (Hazel et al, 2003).

It's just violence, I think. Getting something to hit and beat someone with, as opposed to a smack. [Female peer group, Dundee, ABC1]

4.6 Beliefs about what constitutes 'violence' and 'abuse' are, in turn, shaped by understandings about age. Hitting children's bottoms, for example, is not acceptable for older children. The concern in the following extract is with the age of the child – 'he was a schoolboy' - and, possibly with the sexual connotation – 'if she had done it on top of his trousers'.

I've seen somebody taking a wee boy's pants down in Boots and that was embarrassing and I was just quite angry at the mother, and I thought, you had no business doing that to him. He was a schoolboy. […] If she had done it on the top of his trousers, I probably wouldn't have bothered, but that to me, was assaulting him [Female peer group, Dundee, ABC1].

4.7 It is clear from this extract that when talking about older children – the actual age varies from parent to parent - parents allow for the possibility that physical chastisement may be humiliating. This is stated explicitly in another focus group discussion.

When they're older. You don't want to publicly humiliate them in front of loads of people. It's just not on. Because that kind of thing sticks in your mind. It's different when they're tiny. [Female peer group, Edinburgh, C2DE]

4.8 The possibility of emotional harm, therefore, is admitted for older 'nearer completion' children. These children are recognised as having/being a 'body incarnate'. Drawing on Frankenburg's (1990) work, Christensen understands the 'body incarnate' to be 'the body, as experience, in action, involved with the environment as well as interactions with others' (Christensen, 2000:47). She compares this to the 'somatic body' - 'an objectification of the body beyond subjective experience' (2000:45).

4.9 In relation to parents of very young children, the absence of a more holistic approach to understanding the pain of physical chastisement in the Scottish data may, in part, be to do with their view of these children as pre-rational and implicitly, therefore, as only responsive to physical stimuli – to 'something that's quick and sharp' [Male, Inverness, ABC1]. It is, then, the older child's greater cognitive understanding that turns smacking into assault:

When they're young and you smack them, they don't think you're being violent to them […] When they get older, they know what's going on. Bairns don't know what violence is. [Male, mixed peer group, Borders]

4.10 This focus on the significance of age is backed up by the quantitative data from the Scottish study, which points to there being relatively little support among parents for smacking either very young or older children. Indeed, most parents saw smacking as useful only within a relatively narrow age band.[14] Some of the reasons given for not smacking an older child are reflected in the qualitative data for the study analysed above, including the idea that older children would understand the meaning of violence and, therefore, interpret a smack differently.

4.11 The above discussion based on analysis from the 2002 study suggests that parents do 'zone' or 'map' children's bodies in similar ways to political discourses. Their focus on the age of the children they are disciplining, however, seems to point to an awareness of 'developmental time' – something briefly engaged with, but then rejected by, the Scottish legislators. Parents' understandings, though, seem to depend not simply on age but on how they perceive the emotional and cognitive capacities of children – hence the variability, for example, in parental determination of above what age smacking should be seen as inappropriate – this ranged in the 2002 study from 4 to 5 years up to 7 to 8 years (Anderson et al, 2002:40). To this extent, while parents do still draw a broad distinction between 'younger' and 'older' children, the variation in the meanings they attach to different ages, suggests a more complicated understanding than the idea of the 'potential self'. The parental practice of not uniformly and straightforwardly reading off children's capabilities from their age – as well as politicians' and 'psy' experts' uncertainty about how to think about this issue - echoes recent wider calls for a debate about how we should, in practice, measure children's competencies (Lansdown, 2004).

4.12 There is, however, another temporal dimension to parental talk about physical chastisement; and this is the tendency of parents, even when not being asked to make these connections, to move between their own experiences of being chastised as children and their current disciplinary practices. [15] As with parents' talk about zoning, these, too, are embodied accounts. While the significant methodological problems in analysing these connections need to be kept in mind, the prominence of such memories for parents of both sexes and across socio-economic groups, suggests it is worth exploring them further.

The punished body and the punishing body: remembering discipline

4.13 Although, when asked to think about physical chastisement, parents in the Scottish study engaged in the zoning work identified by McGillivray (1997), their accounts of actually using physical chastisement are thinly embodied. Parents, for example, tend, for the most part, to talk about 'taps' and 'light smacks'. When, however, parents describe their experiences of being disciplined as children, their accounts are more embodied, both physically and emotionally.

That's the only thing that sticks in my memory: being scared of him coming home from work and the belt coming off [Male, Mixed peer group, Borders].

I can remember getting leathered when I was wee. The stinging backside and all that [Edinburgh female, ABC1].

4.14 Also prevalent across all socio-economic groups are parental memories of the fear parents felt when threatened with being disciplined:

Mind you I can't remember being hit by either of my parents but the fear was there. "You wait until your dad comes in". [Edinburgh couple, C2DE]
These memories are also interesting because they emphasise the extent to which parents remember family life as structured by parental (mostly paternal) authority (Jamieson and Toynbee, 1990). I return to this issue of the construction of parental memories later.

4.15 The point being made here is not that all parents in this Scottish research give strongly embodied accounts of having been disciplined as children, but that such accounts emerge only when adults situate themselves as 'punished children' rather than as 'punishing adults'. How do we understand this? It is possible that these parental memories are based on parents' experiences as older children. We saw in the last section, in relation to their own children, that parents appear to be more likely to allow for the body incarnate in relation to the older child. Parents' embodied accounts of being punished, therefore, may also be the memories of older incarnate bodies.

4.16 The difference between how parents talk about their disciplinary behaviours and those of their parents could, however, also point to a shift in actual parenting practices. Most parents indicated, in the qualitative interviews, that they felt physical discipline is used less frequently - and in less severe ways now - than in the past. In the extract below, a parent from the study describes a memory of how she was disciplined as a child and uses this memory to emphasise how she herself parents differently. To the extent that parents manage their parental identity through the narratives they tell about parenting, memories of how they were parented are a part of these.

I got belted. Yes, I remember I was fourteen at the time, I'll never forget this, and I went along to my friends, and you know when you get in with a bad crowd […]. My dad was standing at the side of the door and my mum was waiting for me straight on. So I didn't see my dad and I got knocked from one end of the hall to the other and I never ever done that again. But that isn't the way I treat my kids. I talk to my kids [Glasgow female, single parent, C2DE].

4.17 Parents, then, consciously seek to distance their own parenting from these harsher methods and this is reflected in their use of language. The terms in which they describe disciplinary practices in the past - 'walloped', 'belted', 'hammered' or 'leathered' – are not used at all in relation to their current practices. This discursive shift, as with parents' accounts of how their parenting differs from those of their parents, can be read in different ways: as reflecting a narrowing of how physical chastisement is actually practised; or as evidence of parents' need to present socially-acceptable accounts of their own parenting. This is a significant methodological point for any study on parenting because of an almost in-built societal expectation of parents that they will always act in their children's best interests (Ribbens McCarthy et al, 2000).

4.18 Although - because of differences in recall periods - it is not possible to make a direct comparison between parents' experiences as children and the forms of chastisement they use with their own children[16], the survey results from the Scottish study lend some support to the impression gained from the qualitative data that there has been a decline in the use and severity of physical punishments over time.[17] Over and above the problems with recall, however, it is possible that in responding to survey questions[18] too, parents are perhaps less forthcoming about their use of harsher measures than about their own parents' use of these. As noted, this may reflect their awareness of the changing social context in which accounts of using severe physical chastisement are now less acceptable.

4.19 Having looked at how parents contrast their experience of being disciplined with their own parenting, it is interesting to ask why, if the acts of physical chastisement parents recall administering are so physically inconsequential, do parents also describe strong feelings of guilt after using physical discipline? Some mothers queried if this was a gendered response – 'Do you not think its part of being a mum? You like beating yourself up about everything you do though?' (Female peer group, Dundee, ABC1). Findings from this 2002 study, however, suggest this ambivalence is prevalent across all socio-economic groups and for both male and females.

It gives them a short, sharp shock and it brings them to their senses but it doesn't do me any good because I feel guilty for days after it [Female, Mixed peer group, Borders].

It makes me feel really guilty. I'm quite a big lad eh? I've got quite a big pair of hands so if I was to smack them, I would knock them next door so I'm always saying to my wife to do it but she never does! [Male, Mixed peer group. Borders]

4.20 How are we to read this apparent lack of fit between the 'taps' parents administer and the intensity of their emotional reaction to using physical chastisement? Again, it is possible that the acts are, in fact, more physical than parents are willing to admit to; or, alternatively, as many parents do describe experiencing intense emotions of anger and frustration leading up to their use of physical chastisement (Anderson et al, 2002), it could be that it is the loss of emotional control parents are reacting to. At the same time, these feelings of guilt may also reflect parental awareness of a social climate where there is now a greater focus on children's rights (Brownlie, 2006). Yet, although outright opposition by parents to the use of physical chastisement because it infringes the rights of the child was not completely missing from the data, it was very rare.[19] This relative absence of a children's rights discourse by parents is complicated and needs to be understood. While the significance of the gap between parents' perception of children having increased rights and children's actual rights in law – which have remained consistent – is explored elsewhere (Brownlie, 2006), it can, in brief, be linked to parents' perception that there has been a decline in parental rights while the responsibilities they face as parents have increased. Alongside the relative absence of a focus by parents on children's rights or parental rights per se, therefore, are parents' concerns with parental rights as responsibilities. We return to these issues of how to understand parental ambivalence, and the significance of the social context in which memories take place, later in the article.

4.21 So far in this section we have engaged with the problem of how to interpret parental accounts of their parenting practices and those of their parents. This analysis acts as a reminder that recalling the past is an epistemological and methodological issue (Mills, 2000). Given this, it is interesting to look beyond the Scottish study - though not with the aim of making straightforward comparisons – to two other research studies with parents from the 1960s and 1970s (Newson and Newson, 1968; 1976) and at recent research study with children about their views of physical chastisement (Willow and Hyder, 1998).

Voices from other generations: parents' and children's accounts from other research studies

5.1 Newson and Newson's Nottingham studies of parents of four-year olds and seven- year olds, in 1968 and 1976[20] respectively, lend support to what the parents in our Scottish study remember of their childhood. Parents in these older studies, for example, describe using implements (canes, belts, spoons) on a frequent basis; smacking very young children; smacking so as to leave a mark; and smacking around children's faces and on their bare skin. In terms of the shifting social context, it is as significant to note the open way in which parents in these other studies describe these behaviours in research interviews, as it is to read that they took place.

5.2 Willow and Hyder's 1998 study[21] of physical chastisement, on the other hand, allows for the perspective of those children on the receiving end of physical chastisement today. These, like the Scottish parents' accounts of being punished as children, are embodied stories where children clearly describe smacking as 'hitting' which 'hurts':

It feels like someone banged you with a hammer' (5 year old girl)

It's like when you're in the sky and you are falling to the ground and you just hurt yourself' (7 year old boy)

(cited in Willow and Hyder, 1998: 46).

5.3 Willow and Hyder found that when children talked about their experience of physical chastisement, they described pain that is not related to a part of the body but to the whole experience of being hit: to return to Christensen's (2000) distinctions, they describe the body incarnate. The physical descriptions above, from Willow and Hyder's study, therefore, may tell us as much about children's emotional pain as their physical pain: the physical pain of chastisement for these children causes emotional hurt, and the emotional pain is experienced physically (Leder, 1984). Children's accounts, therefore, are stories where dualisms are overcome and 'mindful bodies' are to the fore (Scheper-Hughes and Lock, 1987). This is encapsulated in the title of Willow and Hyder's research report taken from the description of the experience of physical chastisement by one five-year-old girl from their study– 'it hurts you inside'. In contrast to recent legislation in England and Wales, children's descriptions of feeling angry and upset 'inside' point to pain not as something that can be measured by the redness of skin but as 'rooted in the lived body' (Williams and Bendelow, 1998: 210).

5.4 Mayall argues that mothers, through their everyday caring work, are well aware of the links between the physical, emotional and the cognitive (1998: 141) but makes no mention of physical discipline in the home. Yet, in their relatively unembodied accounts of disciplining children, mothers and fathers in our Scottish study appear to rupture the holistic approach to civilising and regulating children described by Mayall. It could be, however, that the emotional intensity of parents' responses to using smacking, discussed earlier, is in part rooted in an awareness at some level – perhaps grounded in their own memories of childhood - of children as physical, emotional and cognitive beings. In other words, in a recognition that children do experience physical chastisement as 'mindful bodies'.

5.5 There are, then, at least three ways of understanding the differences in the accounts given by the children in Willow and Hyder's study and the parents in our Scottish study. First, as argued above, children who experience physical chastisement, unlike the adults who administer it, are adopting a holistic approach to what constitutes pain/ harm. Second, we may be picking up again on the significance of age. One of the main differences between our Scottish study and Willow and Hyder's study is the age of the children: while Willow and Hyder (1998) are referring to 5 to 7 year olds, when the parents in the Scottish study are talking about the impact of physical discipline on their children, they are often referring to under-threes – an age group regarded by these parents as pre-rational. By contrast, as noted, when the Scottish parents offer embodied accounts of being disciplined as children, they are often drawing on memories of themselves as older children. Third, parents in Scotland, as we have seen, may be denying to themselves or the researcher how painful (emotionally and/or physically) their use of discipline actually is. In part, this may be because of an awareness, identified earlier, of the moral imperatives acting on parents (Ribbens McCarthy et al, 2000) and, relatedly, because of the changing social acceptability of sharing accounts of using harsh physical chastisement.

5.6 The above analysis points to the significance for parents of memories of being disciplined and the embodied nature of these memories. At the same time, it also highlights the complexity of understanding such memories and their impact on beliefs and behaviours. Through exploring these themes and drawing on voices from other research studies in the past and in the present, the significance of social time - that is, the social context of parenting (and disciplining) now and in the past - begins to emerge. By way of conclusion, then, we ask what sociological work on memory can add to our understanding of the temporal dimensions of discipline?

Embedding physical chastisement

5.7 Oakley (1994), referring to Schachter's (1947) work, suggests that our memories of childhood are shaped by how we learn as adults to think of childhood. Schachter's point is that an adult's 'way of experiencing' is different from that of a child: 'the person who remembers is the present person, a person who has changed considerably, whose interests, needs, fears, capacity for experience and emotion have changed' (1947: 4). It is also the case, however, that we understand the present, both individually and collectively, in terms of the past (Connerton, 1989:2). Parental selves, like all other selves, are 'temporal processes' (Flaherty and Fine, 2001): moving backwards and forwards between past, present and future (Mead, 1932). This is reflected in the parents' beliefs from the 2002 Scottish study that parenting is something you learn through doing and from having been parented:

From my memories of what my mum was like with me, I think I'm like that with my wee one [….]. And I think a lot of that is just the way you are brought up. It's just the way you are without thinking. It just comes naturally to you [Edinburgh female ABC1].
It is also reflected in the sense parents from the Scotland study have that parenting impacts on the 'time future' of their children- on how their children 'turn out'.

5.8 How and what parents remember, however, is not just about individual fears and emotions. It is also shaped by social context, both in terms of the social networks we belong to, and in so far as individual memories are 'ruled and ordered by socially structured norms and patterns' (Misztal, 2003: 5). Families are a part of the social context in which memories are embedded: it is through them that memories are passed on/down. It is likely, therefore, that some of what parents in the Scotland study remember is shaped by their own parents' recollections. At the same time, research interactions with others from their generation also shaped the memories these parents shared. While there is not space to explore the idea of generation in detail, I use the term here to imply something more than an age cohort: the idea that through collective memory a group of people can come to have a 'cultural identity' (Edmunds and Turner, 2002). This can lead to individuals identifying with a generational culture to which they are not chronologically connected. Parents in this study may share a sense of cultural identity through having experienced the same events – for example, the banning of physical chastisement in Scottish schools in the 1980s - but at the same time they may also identify with their parents' generation, in part because they have memories from their childhood but also because they share other experiences with this generation including, for example, a sense of an era before children's rights.

5.9 In terms of social norms and patterns, parents in the Scotland study believe that, for their generation, the social context of parenting has changed and, with it, the nature of parent-child relations (Anderson et al, 2002). In particular, as suggested earlier, parents believe that children now have more rights than they had as children; and that this generation of parents has less authority, yet more responsibilities, than their parents' generation had. They describe a past that was more ordered, compared to the lack of respect in the present.

I think the way society has changed is that you have a lot less respect than you used to have, going back to my day [Male, mixed peer group, Glasgow, ABC1]

5.10 This belief in the loss of a more respectful, ordered past is part of a shared cultural understanding in post-traditional societies (Giddens, 1994; Scott, 2000). It is a worldview which, as Loader and Mulcahy (2003) describe it, 'looks forward to a past' (p.312). The experience of parents in the Scottish study of the present social context – one where they understand themselves not to have the authority/control/respect that their parents enjoyed - is mediated through the social memory of a more respectful time. This can be heard in those parental accounts where parents compare the fear they felt towards their own parents with the lack of attention their children pay to them. The following extract from a focus group also illustrates how memories come to be jointly constructed between people of the same generation and emphasises again the gendered nature of these: they are, for the most part recalling lost paternal authority. While there is not the space to explore this here, the gendered nature of parental memories of discipline is an area that could be fruitfully explored further

*You didn't know your dad, did you? You didn't just jump on him.

*You had to respect him, you know what I mean. It was […] I'm not saying it wasn't an earned respect, but it was […] you know, you must respect him. He is your father.

*He was an unknown person, aye?

Yeah. It was different relationships, aye.

Whereas, my husband will say the same things as my father. "Sit there, don't move", and she just doesn't pay a blind bit of attention. [Female peer group, Dundee, ABC1]

5.11 The Scottish study suggests the current generation of parents have invested in this particular social memory of the past being a more respectful time but it is not clear if this investment will continue indefinitely and if it does not, what will take its place for the next generation of parents. At the same time, it is worth noting that what parents in the Scottish study are also remembering here is not just a particular historical time but the time of childhood: typically for all generations, a more structured, regulated time of life than adulthood.

5.12 The relationship between individual and social memories of discipline can be heard in these Scottish data through parents' talk about the banning of physical chastisement in schools. Memories of this are prominent in the research accounts - 'It was the belt in my day' [Inverness couple, C2DE] - and form part of the construction of a more respectful past – 'the respect went when they took the belt away' [Edinburgh female, ABC1].

5.13 As Loader and Mulcahy's found, however, the parents in the Scottish study who mourn the loss of authority, at the same time 'embody' the 'altered world' (2003:93) brought about by this loss. These parents recognise, for example, that their own parents' disciplinary practices do not quite 'fit' with the current social context, hence their uncertainty – 'It certainly worked for us but, whether you'd want it for your own kids' [Dundee male, C2DE ] - and the references in their accounts to a 'modern approach' to disciplining:

*INT: If you think it worked for you, why are you doing it differently?

*Well, it's sort of the modern approach to it. Like anything, things change with the generation. [Edinburgh, male, C2DE]

5.14 For a few parents this is a way of managing a tension between, on the one hand – perhaps out of loyalty to own parents– the suggestion that smacking did them no harm, and, on the other hand, their wish not to use similar techniques with their own children. Quantitative data from the Scottish study, however, also points to considerable parental ambivalence – the construction of smacking as last resort – rather than any positive commitment to smacking. This may explain why the more unapologetic construction of smacking as never having done me any harm is largely absent from the qualitative data.

5.15 As much as parents' memories are embedded in particular social contexts, what this article also argues is that theirs are also embodied memories. For the parents in this study, the importance of bodies for remembering is highlighted by the relevance emotions have for remembering: it is through emotions that the past is felt in the lived body. This was evidenced earlier in the article, in parents' emotive memories of disciplinary incidents that stood out from their past. Remembering the past is an interpretive process, therefore, and one which involves drawing on meanings in the current social context but also our individual embodied experiences (Misztal, 2003: 77). It is these latter experiences that guarantee that, even though memories are socially mediated, they are, as Misztal argues, and as we have seen in these parents' accounts, never completely standardised.

Concluding thoughts

6.1 Through an analysis of political discourses and of parental accounts, this article brings together two previously neglected – and interconnected – themes: the embodied and temporal nature of physical chastisement. These themes were apparent across political discourses and parental accounts but with slightly different emphases. Specifically, while both highlighted the physical 'zoning' of children's bodies, political discourses about physical chastisement, drew on the notion of the child as a potential self, while parents have a more nuanced concern about the evolving capabilities of the children they are disciplining. In Scotland, as we have seen, there was a brief attempt - albeit through the planned introduction of a crude age cut-off point - to try to incorporate into the law on physical chastisement a more differentiated understanding of children. This was subsequently abandoned – notably not because of a belief that all children, whatever their age, have a right not to be physically disciplined but because of the fear of a parental backlash in relation to 'criminalisation' (Brownlie, 2006) - and politicians and legislators once more retreated to concerns about 'instruments of punishment' and 'body parts'.

6.2 Parents also engaged with these temporal and embodied themes through talk about how they were disciplined as children. Given that identities – including our identities as parents – are, in part, made up of memories (Jedlowski, 2001), this is, perhaps, not too surprising. While acknowledging the methodological and epistemological problems of 'recalling the past', sociological approaches to memory were drawn on to argue that the current social context – including ideas about parenting and the use of physical discipline – shape how the past is read; yet, at the same time, the past continues to shape the present. It is parents' engagement with this 'paradox of memory' (Jedlowski, 2001) which means that subtler processes are probably at work here than McGillivray's suggestion that the punished child and the punishing adult 'replace' one another in other generations (1997: 195). In particular, when talking about physical chastisement, individual parents are describing not only their own practices within particular families and in relation to children of specific ages, but also how they engage with understandings of what it means to belong to the social category 'parent' or 'child' both now and in the past. To paraphrase Mayall (2002): to understand disciplinary practices is to understand generational processes happening at a number of levels: between individual parents and children; between parents and children as social groups; between people born at different points in history; and in relation to laws handed down (Mayall, 2002: 35). While it adds to the already difficult task of recalling the past, the focus in this article on the embodied nature of physical discipline reminds us that although in legal and political discourses it is the mindful body of the 'reasonable parent' rather than the child that is often to the fore, across these different levels, 'mindful bodies' are both doing the disciplining and being disciplined.


1The author, Simon Anderson and Lorraine Murray, then of TNS Social Research, carried out this research (Anderson et al, 2002).

2Conventional focus groups are made up of individuals who are not known to each other in advance of the group, whereas in the peer group interviews we recruited a parent and then asked them to recruit a close friend or relative with children of the same age. The advantage of this latter approach is that there is an existing level of trust within the group and it is anticipated that participants' awareness of each other's lives would act as a check on misrepresentation of views or behaviours.

3Interestingly, although the qualitative sample is differentiated by sex and class, differences based on these factors were not significant in either the quantitative or qualitative data. For example, women were only marginally more likely than men to have used most disciplinary behaviours – reflecting, no doubt, their greater role in child care - and there were surprisingly few differences between the forms of chastisement favoured by mothers and fathers. The exceptions here included smacking or slapping a child's face or head or cuffing a child's ear (10% of men compared with 3% of women). The tendency to use physical chastisement did not vary greatly by whether the child was a boy or a girl. In relation to class, parents in class C2DE were somewhat more likely to smack - 45% in the past year compared with 34% of ABC1 parents. What is most notable, however, is that temporal issues and particular understandings about children's bodies emerged across the sample. In order to emphasis this point, therefore, data extracts are differentiated by sex and class.

4On the 23/1/06, a judicial review rejected a challenge to the Department of Health's guidance for providing confidential abortion services and advice for girls under 16 see: <http://www.brook.org.uk/content/M7_2006_23_1.asp>

5Towards this end, in the 2002 study which this article draws on, parents were asked about their use of a whole range of disciplinary techniques – physical and non physical. In particular, they were asked about a spectrum of physical behaviours including smacking a child's bottom, arm, leg or face; grabbing, pushing or handling a child roughly; shaking a child or hitting them with an object. Non physical chastisement referred to in the study included refusing to talk to a child, calling a child names, threatening to have child sent away or telling another parent about the child's behaviour.

6Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, for example, refers to the need to avoid 'degrading treatment' and Article 19(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to the need to protect children from 'mental violence'.

7See Section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 and Scottish Law Commission (1992).

8Clause 51(1) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003

9Expert witness evidence presented to the Justice Committee in Scotland, for example, noted that while banning smacking for under threes 'makes sense practically because it is easier to apply alternatives with children under three' at the same time, the witness in question – a child psychologist - noted 'I am not aware of any research that shows a clear cut-off point—that shows, for example, that a child could not understand something at two years and nine months but could understand it at three.' Scottish Parliament Justice 2 Committee May 2002 Accessed at <http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/historic/justice2/or-02/j202-2102.htm>

10'Ban on smacking comes into force' 15/1/05 (online) <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4175905.stm> http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4175905.stm (accessed 20/1/05)

11When asked about the current law in Scotland, half of all parents believed that smacking is currently illegal, either for younger children or children in general.

12This notation refers to location of interview, socio-economic group, interview format and whether the interview was with women, men or a mixed group. The 'Borders' groups were mixed in both gender and socio-economic terms.

13In identifying what counts as acceptable physical chastisement for parents, Hazel et al (2003) mention age, but choose to focus on two other factors: risk of harm and the purpose of using discipline.

14Of the 80% who thought there was an age below which children should not be smacked, 23% thought the age should be three and the main reason for this was the belief that a child under this age would not understand why they were being smacked. 76% of those who thought one should not smack a child above a certain age suggested age eight or above.

15For a similar pattern, see submissions to the Scottish Parliament about the proposed age-related ban (Justice 2 Committee 8th report, 2002).

16Similarly, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the relationship between having been smacked as a child and deciding to use smacking as a parent. While there is evidence from the qualitative data that some parents decide not to use physical chastisement exactly because they were physically disciplined as children, the survey results suggest that of those whose own parents had never used physical chastisement, 33% had done so in the past year with their own child, compared to 53% of parents who had experienced physical chastisement themselves. Again, however, we should be wary, of over-reading such data as the former group may also share with their parents a higher level of educational attainment, higher income and better social support – all of which can shape how children are parented (Anderson et al, 2002).

17For example, a quarter (26%) of respondents said that they had been hit around the face or head but only 6% of parents said they had used this form of physical chastisement with their own children.

18It is worth noting, however, that Computer Assisted Self Interviewing (CASI) and interview strategies such as normalisation were used to encourage honest responses.

19This is reflected in the quantitative data which confirms the widespread use of physical chastisement: 77% (8 out of 10 parents) of children aged between 3 and 5 had used some form of physical chastisement in the last year.

20See Newson and Newson (1963) for outline of methodology

21Hyder and Willow's sample was of seventy-six 5 to 7 year olds across 6 schools and 2 play schemes.


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