Where ‘green’ parenting meets climate activism: understanding the affective, political, generative, but challenging ‘space in-between’ of radical eco-parenting
Howard, Lisa Karen
The failure of governments to tackle the climate and ecological crisis challenges normative responsibilities of parents to protect and provide for their children’s future. Recently emerged parent-led climate action groups have demonstrated concerns for an imperilled future and have put these concerns to work in political action. This takes the form of demanding change through organised actions and expressing ecological awareness in everyday ways of living and relating. This repertoire of radical parenting practices for the future enfolds notions of care and justice for distant others as well as for children, contrasting with theories of family life as parochial and politically conservative. Yet, it has received little attention in the family or climate action literatures; previous scholarship on green parenting has portrayed this as incremental and atomised steps to sustainability, largely confined to the home, and without much urgency. Studies of everyday activism have helped us understand the collective politics of parenting largely through a lens of motherhood, yet leave questions about fatherhood, and the tensions and contradictions of living one’s values within the context of power-laden affective relationships. This thesis addresses knowledge gaps in the ways action on the climate ‘crisis’ is mobilised within the context of family and personal relationships. The main research questions include: How do parenthood and parenting interplay with activism for climate and ecological change? What are the motivations for and practices of addressing climate change? and, what have been the relational challenges along the way? The thesis draws on a qualitative dataset of interviews and solicited diaries of 20 participants, of which 10 were individual mothers, 2 were a mother couple, and 8 were individual fathers, who were working collectively through organised campaigning and collaborating to influence ecologically oriented family practices. The thesis consists of four interlinked journal manuscripts, each providing an illumination of the facets of what I argue constitutes a ‘space in between’ of radical eco parenting: ecologically informed practices which connect multiple levels of power, from macro level systemic issues to micro level interpersonal relations. These connections manifest, for example, as shifting norms around ‘good’ parenting and the everyday resistance and innovations towards socioecological justice. I discuss how this ‘space in between’ expands the notion of parental care, and questions the boundaries between family and civil society, and people and nature. I argue for the generative potential of radical eco parenting, but also the need to understand the relational challenges, contradictions, and tensions. The thesis contributes to social practice and everyday activism theories from a relational and feminist perspective and enriches social movement and sociological theories of emotions. The thesis deepens understanding of affective and identity-related responses to climate and ecological change, as well as contributes knowledge on processes of social change towards sustainability.