Infant mental health promotion and the discourse of risk

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14 Citations (Scopus)


The field of infant mental health promotion has rapidly developed in academia, health policy and practice. Although there are roots in earlier childhood health and welfare movements, recent developments in infant mental health promotion are distinct and different. This article examines the development and practice of infant mental health promotion in South Australia. A regional, intersectoral forum with a focus on families and young children was used as a case study. In-depth interviews with forum members were analysed using a governmentality lens. Participants identified a range of risks to the healthy development of the infant. The study suggests that the construction of risk acts as a technique of governing, providing the rationale for intervention for the child, the mother and the public's good. It places responsibility on parents to self-govern. Although the influence of broader social contexts is acknowledged, the problematisation of mothering as risk shifts the focus to individual capacity, rather than encompassing the systems and social conditions that support healthy relationships. This research suggests that the representations of risk are a pervasive and potent influence that can act to undermine health promotion efforts that seek to empower and enable people to have more control over their own health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-431
Number of pages16
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Attachment
  • Discourse
  • Governmentality
  • Infant mental health
  • Risk


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