PhD Completion

Name: Teresa Flynn

Title: Silenced by reason: the creation of the civilised post-divorce family

Institution: Murdoch University

Supervisor: Emerita Professor Patricia Harris

Summary: This thesis sets out to explore how family law has come to shape and regulate the nature of the post-divorce family, with particular reference to contemporary Australia. In doing so, it positions law as part of a broader set of behavioural, social and economic regulations through which separating families are re-formed in the contemporary context. In considering law in this wider context, I have particular interest in the mediation process within family dispute resolution. Here I consider how the mediation process works to steer negotiations between divorcing parents in particular directions, and in the process potentially sidelines, or silences, other emotional and personal issues deemed to be irrelevant to the desired outcome, which is increasingly construed in terms of the ‘best interests of the child’. In order to investigate the factors that have contributed to the regulation of the post-divorce family over time I draw on three major theoretical sources. First, Michel Foucault and his ideas on governmentality; second Jacques Donzelot and his work on the policing of families from the mid-eighteenth century in France; and, third Norbert Elias’s insights into the civilising process. Taken together these insights help to illuminate the often hidden but persuasive role of law, the broad social mechanisms by which separating families are regulated, how the regulation of behaviour and emotion at family breakdown relies on law working in co-operation with the social and behavioural experts, and how our social orderliness relies on our ability to civilise our behaviour.

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