Brain science and early years policy: Hopeful ethos or ‘cruel optimism’?

Edwards, Rosalind; Gillies, Val and Horsley, Nicola. 2015. Brain science and early years policy: Hopeful ethos or ‘cruel optimism’? Critical Social Policy, ISSN 0261-0183 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Ideas that the quality of parental nurturing and attachment in the first years of a child’s life is formative, hard-wiring their brains for success or failure, are reflected in policy reports from across the political spectrum and in targeted services delivering early intervention. In this article we draw on our research into ‘Brain science and early intervention’, using reviews of key policy literature and interviews with influential advocates of early intervention and with early years practitioners, to critically assess the ramifications and implications of these claims. Rather than upholding the ‘hopeful ethos’ proffered by advocates of the progressive nature of brain science and early intervention, we show that brain claims are justifying gendered, raced and social inequalities, positioning poor mothers as architects of their children’s deprivation.

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This article draws on material from the ‘Brain Science and Early Intervention’ research project which was funded by the Faraday Institute under its ‘Uses and Abuses of Biology’ programme.


early intervention, infant brain, mothering, neuroscience, social class

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26 February 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

03 Mar 2015 15:06

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:09

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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