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Title: The experience of head lice infestation in the twentieth century : mothers' understandings in context
Author: Malin, Anitra
ISNI:       0000 0004 2693 3634
Awarding Body: Liverpool John Moores University
Current Institution: Liverpool John Moores University
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis reports on a study that aimed to add to the understandings about head lice that were already available in society. Previous accounts of infestation had focused largely on its social and expert medical perspectives and there was limited comment on the experience at a personal level. In order to address this Liverpool mothers and grandmothers were asked about their perceptions and understandings of what it meant to experience head lice. The women's experiences spanned most of the twentieth century and this provided the study's historical dimension. The inquiry used hermeneutic phenomenology as a way of investigating highly personal aspects of an experience that had not been explored before. By using an approach that drew on hermeneutic phenomenology and anthropology it was possible to explore aspects of the experience that generated culturally specific beliefs and understandings. Lambert and McKevitt, (2002) argue that in doing this a phenomenon defines itself. In this inquiry the boundaries of mother's understandings concerned with the experience of head lice were unknown. Hermeneutic phenomenology allowed these hidden understandings to emerge. Van Manen's (1997) framework for phenomenological inquiry was used to guide the study and Colaizzi's (1978) method for the interpretation of the women's stories was used to highlight the understandings that emerged. The women who took part were of different ages though all had lived, been mothers and experienced head lice during the twentieth century. They were asked to tell their stories and these were recorded, transcribed and interpreted. The interpretation of their narratives generated themes of understandings. These included understandings about the responsibilities of being mothers and giving care, beliefs and views about the insect and infestation and the meaning and impact of social stigma. The understandings that the women expressed were concerned with their individual responses to infestation. Essential feature shared by them represented a complex interplay of guilt feelings about themselves as poor mothers and the importance of the responsibilities they felt they had to prrtect their children, their families and society from head lice. Their own mothers played a significant role in fashioning their understandings as did their childhood experiences. Images of others outside the family who had infestation were linked to stigma, poor mothering and to lay epidemiology. The women talked of other mothers' responsibilities to prevent and treat infestation and how this created a feeling of lack of control. They also told of the need to remove all traces of infestation from their home and with it the influence and presence of what constituted their image of an infested family. The women shared their stories, but as Widdershoven (1993) points out these have little value unless their relationships to other sources of experience are also considered in some way. Therefore the women's understandings were placed into context by examining the way in which they linked to other available discourses about head lice. A search was made of the social, historical and expert medical sources available during the twentieth century; local Liverpool sources were consulted wherever possible. The understandings that emerged from these were then considered alongside those of the women. There was a link between the women's understandings and those in the social discourse concerning the public health role of women during the twentieth century. Infestation was used as a measure of mothering by social discourses and the women alike. This gave healthcare practitioners and society the opportunity to comment on, influence and control what went on in the family. Stigma, exclusion and labelling were evident in both the social discourses explored and the women's stories particularly in relation to experiences of school and the school nurse. Personal and social discourses about prevention, detection and treatment reached no overall consensus with evidence based approaches being used alongside those influenced by myths and more socially constructed understandings.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform ; HQ The family. Marriage. Woman ; RJ101 Child Health. Child health services