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‘Intensive mothering’ in the early years: the cultivation and consolidation of (physical) capital

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posted on 08.12.2015, 15:09 authored by Julie StirrupJulie Stirrup, Rebecca Duncombe, Rachel SandfordRachel Sandford
Growing pressure on parents to equip their children with the skills required for future success, coupled with an increased focus on providing quality learning experiences in the early years, has contributed to an upsurge in the enrolment of young children in formal (often privatised) activities. Moreover, in response to growing societal concerns over the perceived risks of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, parents are often acutely aware of the importance of providing plentiful physical activity opportunities for their children within this enrichment context. In this paper, the tendency for parents to provide copious developmental opportunities is referred to as ‘intensive mothering’ and is explored through the theoretical lens of Bourdieu, specifically his concepts of habitus and capital. This paper reports on a small-scale study undertaken within the UK, which sought to explore the impact of social class on access to early years’ provision as well as parental attitudes towards physical activity and the provision of preschool physical development opportunities. Data were generated through a questionnaire (disseminated via early years settings) as well as three in-depth interviews with ‘middle-class’ parents and were analysed to draw out key themes relating to the cultivation and consolidation of (physical) capital. The data indicate that many parents perceive a ‘responsibility’ to aid their children's physical development and demonstrate a willingness to facilitate the acquisition of physical capital via the provision of play equipment, privatised classes and additional (informal) physical activity opportunities. Moreover, they suggest that ‘middle-class’ parents, in particular, articulate the need to invest heavily in enrichment activities, influenced by their own experiences, tastes and values. It is argued that ‘intensive mothering’ is illustrative of the reproduction of a class-based habitus and can be perceived as an attempt to maintain or improve social position through the cultivation, consolidation and, ultimately, conversion, of appropriate capital.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

Sport, Education and Society


STIRRUP, J., DUNCOMBE, R. and SANDFORD, R.A., 2014. ‘Intensive mothering’ in the early years: the cultivation and consolidation of (physical) capital. Sport, Education and Society, 20 (1), pp. 89-106.


© Taylor and Francis


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Sport, Education and Society on 26 September 2014 available online: