Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Rhetoric of Selfishness/Selflessness

21 June 2012, 09:00 - 18:00

CRASSH, Seminar room SG1, Ground floor

Open to all but registration is required. Online registration is now closed.

To book a place, please  use the Online Registration (link on the right hand side of this page)
Fee:  £10.00


To attend and register: Deadline 14th June at 11.00am
Call for Contributions:  Deadline 16th April

Irenee Daly  (Centre for Family Research)
Susanna Graham (Centre for Family Research)
Linda Layne  (Visiting fellow, Centre for Family Research, Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY)


This workshop aims to promote interdisciplinary communication and exchange among people in Cambridge whose work touches upon the concepts of selfishness and/or selflessness, both as related to reproduction but also more widely. The workshop will be a spin-off from the successful series of Interdisciplinary Workshops on Reproduction organised by the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproductive Forum.

In our work on single mothers by choice, Graham and Layne have noticed that the single most frequent criticism of women who choose to make families on their own is that they are "selfish". Likewise, Daly’s work on older mothers has noted that these women are also labeled selfish, a myth that is especially propagated by the media. In this workshop we would like to explore to whom else, and in what circumstances, this (negative) moral judgment is applied. What is meant by this judgment? What rhetorical work does this term do? How do these terms differ? Are there gender and class dimensions to the selfishness rhetoric? What is the relationship between selfishness and individualism/collectivism?

We will also explore the rhetoric of "selflessness". This term, though less frequently articulated, informs the moral discourse that is being marshaled by those who accuse others of selfishness. Motherhood, for example, is often framed in terms of this selfish/selfless rhetoric. Where else is it applied?


Online registration is open.  There will be a modest charge for coffee, tea and lunch. For further information, please email


For further information about previous events and the forum, please visit: Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum (CIRF)



Open to all but registration is required 

Part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum.
For more information about CIRF, please visit the link on the right hand side of this page.

Thursday 21 June 2012


9.30 -09.50


09.50 - 10.00

Welcome and Introduction

Susanna Graham, Linda Layne and Irenee Daly (Convenors)

10.00 - 10.30

Siȃn Pooley (Faculty of History, University of Cambridge)
They must both be very chilly hearted: parenthood, child-rearing and the limits of choice in England, c.1850-1914

10.30 - 11.00

Irenee Daly (Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge)
Older first time mothers-smart or selfish?

11.00 - 11.30

Linda Layne (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute/ Visiting Fellow, Centre for Family Research)
"That's Selfish': Moral
Judgments by and about Single Mothers by Choice and Gay Dads.

11.30 - 12.00

Tea / Coffee Break

12.00 - 12.30

Leah Astbury (Faculty of History, University of Cambridge)
Discourses of judgment: Infant feeding in Early Modern England

12.30 - 13.00

Charlotte Faircloth (SSPSSR, University of Kent)
Doing the best thing for my child': Narratives of self and selflessness in    attachment parenting 

13.00 - 14.00

Lunch (provided)

14.00 - 14.30

Eve Colpus (Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford)
Gaining pleasure and reward through transcending the self: British women’s philanthropy c.1918-1939

14.30- 15.00

Barbara Bodenhorn (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
On being selfish – and other things: explorations of an idea from the mountains of Oaxaca and the Alaskan tundra

15.00 - 15.30 

Tea / Coffee Break

15.30 - 16.00

Nick Long (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
The selfishness of Democracy in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia

16.00 - 16.30

Perveez Mody (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Selfish recovery after selfless love: The dilemma of the self in love-marriages in Delhi

16.30 - 17.00 General Discussion- moving the project forward


Dinner will be booked at a local eatery, everyone is welcome and it’s pay for yourself* please email irenee  ( icd21 ) to reserve a place