‘Making Sense’ of Baby: Parenting, Technology, and the Politics of Touch

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Kerstin LEDER MACKLEY, UCL Knowledge Lab, United Kingdom
Carey JEWITT, UCL Knowledge Lab, United Kingdom
Sara PRICE, UCL Knowledge Lab, United Kingdom
This paper investigates the politics and ideologies of touch technologies in the emerging field of parent-baby/infant communication. While tactile engagement between (predominantly) mother and child is constructed in the western parenting literature as harbouring psychological benefits for both, it is also subject of considerable ideological debate, with a significant history (O’Malley Halley, 2009). Within this context, technological advances promise to enable new, or to reshape traditional, forms of tactile interaction between parent-baby/infant. ‘FeTouch’ (Prattichizzo et al. 2004) allows expectant parents to touch 3D models of their unborn child, smart maternity clothing visualises fetal movement (Jeon et al 2015), and ‘Bumpe’ (Guz, 2017) communicates baby’s heart rate and movements via the bump and, later, via the baby’s body suit to parents’ smart phones. These technologies are part of a wider ‘quantifying babies’ bio-sensing trend (e.g. Bonafide et al. 2017, Noh et al. 2014) of measuring and analysing babies’ health and behavioural patterns in relation to environmental factors.

Drawing on an in-depth literature review, multimodal semiotic analysis of technological devices, and sensory interviews (Pink 2009) with designers and parent users, this paper explores what types and functions of touch are imagined and designed for in parent-baby/infant interaction, with analytical attention to the social and political discourses and stakes for communication. More specifically, we will address the following questions: how does the use of these technologies co-constitute and reimagine babies’ and parental bodies, their boundaries and (biological and/or physical, cultural and social) connections? How does this technological engagement with ‘bodies’ (e.g. ‘fetal bodies’) intersect with the ethics and politics of ‘start of life’? How are parent-baby/infant relationships disciplined through these technologies? How does technological design maintain, interpret, disrupt or generate new touch and sensory-affective practices and routines within parenthood?