Sociological investigation of infant overlaying death
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Overlaying was a common nineteenth century explanation of sudden infant death while bedsharing. This thesis shows that in many cases the term overlaying was a misnomer, and instead it identifies infant overlaying death as a socio-structural historical event that can best be understood within a sociological and social constructionist framework. It expands on the work of Giddens, Elias and Archer to develop a theoretical perspective that incorporates ideas about structuration, sequestration, figuration and reflexivity. It also deploys concepts such as motherhood, infancy, infant care, the family and intimacy to explore and analyse its research materials and develops two further explanatory concepts; reflexive motherhood and the sequestration of infancy. The thesis uses ideas around discourse as socio-structural conditions of action in order to expand current understanding of overlaying death, and it explores and analyses public representations of overlaying during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to detail the discourse of overlaying. It goes on to identify cases of overlaying in Somers Town, St Pancras, c1900; and it shows the influence of social conditions in regard to the way such deaths were interpreted. It then examines other cases of sudden infant death in bed through the case notes of pathologist Dr Ludwig Freyberger, and analyses these in terms of the domestic setting and the body. It goes on to detail and analyse a dispute between Coroner John Troutbeck, Dr Freyberger and the GPs of south west London to show the ways in which the overlaying discourse was deployed to support the claims and positions of those involved. Overlaying subsequently became detached from the domestic context in which it was embedded and used to support discourses around infant mortality, maternal ‘ignorance’, medicine, national efficiency and temperance. The thesis provides a historiography of infant overlaying death and concludes that overlaying was constructed as social category of death through the actions of individuals in extensive networks of interdependence in relation to socio-structural conditions.