Compressed Parenthood: Middle-Class Parenting in Taiwan

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:45
Location: Hörsaal 11 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Pei-Chia LAN, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
Taiwan’s fertility rate has dropped to one of the lowest in the world. Why do parents face intensified pressure, anxiety and uncertainty, despite their expanded access to cultural resources and market services? My research explores this conundrum based in-depth interviews with parents from over fifty families. I propose the concept “compressed parenthood” to describe those parents who experience time-space compression as a consequence of globalization and encounter tension and contradiction between the global and the local, or between the traditional and the modern.

Taiwan’s rapid industrialization and democratization, leading to widespread intergenerational mobility and a vibrant civil society, illustrate what Chang Kyung-Sup (2010) calls “compressed modernity.” The transformation of parenting scripts renders parents reflexive about their past experiences and the imagined future of their children. Middle-class parents lament their own ‘lost childhood’ in a poorer, authoritarian Taiwan; they are determined to break with the traditions of childrearing and to bring more happiness and autonomy for their own children.

Middle-class parents can mobilize expanded resources thanks to “time-space compression” (Harvey 1990) in the global village. Their changing style of childrearing, under the marked influence of US culture, marks their upward mobility and cosmopolitan engagement. Some attempt to cultivate children’s global cultural capital by sending them to all-English kindergartens, elite schools, and summer camps in the US. Some other parents try to protect children from the harm of traditional pedagogy by choosing Western alternative education that jettisons textbooks and examinations.

However, parents feel anxious when they face disjuncture between cultural scripts and institutional reality. Dual-earner parents in Taiwan struggle with long working hours and have limited time to carry out the new script of intensive parenting. These parents also feel concerned about whether their children can survive intense educational competition in a local culture that is still dominated by collectivism.