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  • 2017MecinskaPhD

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Social struggles over breastfeeding: how lactivism reshapes knowledge, meanings, and practices of breastfeeding

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2018
Number of pages349
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis examines women's role in the social struggles over the meanings and practices of breastfeeding. From an initial observation in 2011 and 2012 of two situated flash mob protests in Warsaw, Poland and Bristol, England, the thesis proceeds with an understanding of breastfeeding as a site of discursive and embodied struggle, a social and political issue. The thesis explores how women are involved in meaning-making and knowledge production on breastfeeding, through specific forms of social media participation and embodied activism (lactivism).
Informed by over 30 years of feminist social scientific interest in breastfeeding, the thesis focuses on contemporary women's activism, experiences and practices of breastfeeding within the context of increased attention by state and non-governmental actors to falling breastfeeding rates in European countries. To this end, the thesis interrogates a health social movement framework, and argues that grass-roots activist endeavours are an under-researched element of the broader pro-breastfeeding movement.
Based on active participation in Polish and UK lactivist spaces on- and offline, participant observation of breastfeeding-related events, and using women’s stories about breastfeeding experiences gathered through 20 in-depth interviews conducted between 2012 and 2016 with self-defined breastfeeding women, the thesis looks at the discursive and embodied tactics employed by women in struggles over breastfeeding. Specifically, it pays attention to the complex relationship between bio-medical evidence and advice, and women’s pro-breastfeeding activism.
The thesis has three main strands of investigation: it tracks how on-and offline groups shape contemporary practices of breastfeeding, as well as creating a sense of solidarity and togetherness which allow lactivism to flourish; it reveals how woman to woman support within online groups increasingly ‘patches the gaps’ in state health support to breastfeeding women, transforming medical recommendations into practical, livable solutions; and it examines how lactivists actively engage in the making of new cultural representations of breastfeeding. The thesis argues that the transformation of social meaning of breastfeeding rests on women’s potential to craft effective (counter-) representations of breastfeeding, and to deploy ‘health’ claims as a discursive opportunity structure to forward pro-breast-feeding agendas.