Boundaries of Touch

Parenting and Adult-Child Intimacy
Author: Jean O'Malley Halley
A history of the shifting and conflicting ideas about when, where, and how we should touch our children
Paper – $28
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/12/2009
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About the Book

Discussing issues of parent-child contact ranging from breastfeeding and sleeping arrangements to sexual abuse, Jean O'Malley Halley traces the evolution of mainstream ideas about touching between adults and children over the course of the twentieth century in the United States. Boundaries of Touch shows how arguments about adult-child touch have been politicized, simplified, and bifurcated into "naturalist" and "behaviorist" viewpoints, thereby sharpening certain binary constructions such as mind/body and male/female. In addition to contemporary periodicals and self-help books on child rearing, Halley uses information gathered from interviews she conducted with mothers ranging in age from twenty-eight to seventy-three. Throughout, she reveals how the parent-child relationship, far from being a private or benign subject, continues as a highly contested, politicized affair of keen public interest.

About the Author

Jean O'Malley Halley is an assistant professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Wagner College in New York City and the assistant editor (with Patricia Ticineto Clough) of The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. She is also the mother of two children.


"Halley . . . presents an intriguing exploration of child-rearing attitudes and practices prevalent in families in the US and illustrates the evolution of current 'ideologies of touch.' . . . This reviewer . . . applauds her for initiating a compelling conversation about the ideological underpinnings of a controversial issue. Recommended."--Choice


“Raising children is such daunting work. Medical experts, parents, peers,mass media outlets, and activists engage in the production of the boundaries of what is appropriate when raising children. Halley’s Boundaries of Touch is a groundbreaking and exhaustively researched analysis of human adult-child touch. With great attention to historical and cultural detail, Halley interprets how multiple, often conflicting, groups claim expertise in adult-child relationships."--Lisa Jean Moore, coordinator of gender studies, Purchase College,State University of New York

"Brilliantly conceived, clearly executed, Boundaries of Touch offers readers a rare opportunity to rethink their 'common knowledge' about child rearing through the revealing lens of history. This is a fascinating and important book."--Stuart Ewen, Distinguished Professor of History, Sociology and Media Studies, City University of New York

"Perhaps it is because touching and being touched is fundamental to what infants will become that touch is a hot topic among child care experts. Jean Halley's Boundaries of Touch serves well in revealing the prison house of childrearing advice. Whether taking up debates around breastfeeding, children's sleep patterns, or child sexual abuse, Halley cuts through the expertise to give us a deeper insight into children and those who care for them. Everyone--child caretakers, child care experts, academics and their students--should read this well researched and beautifully written book."--Patricia Ticineto Clough, author of Autoaffection: Unconscious Thought in the Age of Teletechnology

"This is a fascinating, can't-put-it-down exploration of the way mother-child touch is understood as both dangerous and absolutely necessary. Jean O'Malley Halley unpacks the dominant belief that touching children can suggest inappropriate sexuality and therefore must be controlled. This book is an essential intervention into a ubiquitous mindset that we must overcome if we want to raise healthy children who feel loved and who will, in turn, connect with others."--Leora Tanenbaum, author of Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation and Catfight: Rivalries Among Women--from Diets to Dating, from the Boardroom to the Delivery Room