New Parenting Scripts and the Production of “High-Risk Families”: The Case of Taiwan

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Pei-Chia LAN, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
While Taiwan’s fertility has dropped to one of the lowest in the world, the cultural scripts for childrearing become increasingly labor-intensive and expert-guided. The public discourses on childhood and parenthood dramatically transformed during the past few decades. The status of children changed from laboring bodies for military nationalism to healthy bodies under biopolitical governance. And the role of parents transformed from the enforcer of child discipline to the recipient of parental education.

The new cultural scripts of parenting, with penetrating global influence, often mismatch, disjoint or conflict with local reality in Taiwan. For instance, parents are advised to spend a substantial amount of time in communicating and interacting with children. However, most workplaces in Taiwan are not family-friendly in terms of culture and organization. Dual-earner parents widely depend on afterschool programs or kinship networks for childcare. Despite their aspiration to break with the traditions of childrearing, parents must rely on grandparents, who either cohabitate or live nearby, to raise children together. 

Starting in the 1990s, Taiwan’s government has developed a system of medical surveillance to monitor children’s health and also actively promotes parental education as the normative practice of modern family. The working class, immigrant mothers, and other socially disadvantaged parents are increasingly burdened with social blame and labeled as “high-risk families” under state surveillance. Taiwan’s capital outflow and labor inflow in recent decades have affected job security the most for working-class men. Many are pressured to seek foreign brides from Southeast Asia and China and form a new type of global family. The new scripts of parenting, especially the prohibition of corporeal punishment at home and the expectation for parental participation at school, implicitly hold class-biased assumptions about parents’ time flexibility and capacity to communicate with children.