Joshua Stuart-Bennett

Josh Stuart-Bennett

Research Associate

Personal Details

Joshua graduated from Cardiff University in 2013 with an upper second-class (Hons) Psychology degree before moving to the University of Leicester where he graduated in 2014 with a distinction in MSc Clinical Criminology and was awarded with the Best Student Prize for that year. He was awarded a fully-funded PhD Studentship to continue developing the research ideas from his MSc studies.


• Crime history, gender history and histories ‘from below’.

• Nineteenth century constructions of social order and respectability.

• The social construction of the deviant.

• The history of sexuality and child rearing.

• Inter-disciplinary research.

PhD Thesis

‘Modernity and ‘Baby-Farming’: The Privatised Commerce of Motherhood and Respectability in Victorian and Edwardian London’

The term ‘baby-farming’, first conceptualised during the late-Victorian period, described informal arrangements of paid ‘out-of-house’ substitute mothering - either temporary nursing and fosterage or permanent adoption - that were believed to commonly result in the intentional neglect or murder of children. Since this period to the present, understandings of ‘baby-farming’ have persistently been developed through partial and reductionist narratives of ‘women who kill’, constructed almost entirely upon a handful of the most extreme ‘celebrity cases’. By extension, late-Victorian and Edwardian systems of ‘out-of-house’ substitute mothering - that dominant narratives have labelled ‘baby-farming’ - have been routinely misrepresented as wholly deviant and criminal.

Josh’s thesis reconceptualises these dominant constructions, and instead locates the practices associated with ‘baby-farming’ within a modern marketplace of motherhood where women could privately negotiate the stigmas and hardships of problematic parenthood and manage their respectable identities. His thesis provides a narrative social-history ‘from below’ that gives voice and agency to those directly involved in the practices of ‘out-of-house’ substitute mothering and who have so far remained largely ‘hidden’ in history. Unlike any other account, his thesis takes the personal advertisements of ‘out-of-house’ substitute mothering that brought the key parties to these transactions together as pivotal to making sense of this phenomenon in its entirety as a normative process. A sample of 838 of these adverts is used in conjunction with other archival data to reveal and explore how the Victorian and Edwardian obsession with respectable womanhood was key to the ways this marketplace manifested.

Within Josh’s thesis, the practices, individuals, and all outcomes associated with ‘baby-farming’ are revealed as natural and rational products of the same ideologies and technologies of Victorian and Edwardian society that made it ‘civilised’. He shows how those labelled ‘baby-farmers’ ultimately provided an essential service, a form of ‘dirty work’, that was central to the maintenance of ‘respectable’ society.


Understanding Criminological Research (Undergraduate year 2 core module) Criminological Research Methods (Postgraduate core module)


Josh has been recently contributing to a number of research projects within the School including a historical survey of acid attacks, an examination of brothels in 19th century Birmingham, a study on improving mental health outcomes in Nottingham’s LGBT population, as well as a study that explores urban mobility and crime hotspots.


Hodgkinson, S., Prins, H., & Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2016) ‘Monsters, madmen… and myths: A critical review of the serial killing literature’, Aggression and Violent Behavior (in press).

Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2016) ‘Understanding 19th century ‘baby-farming’ women who killed: aberration or ‘rational’ act?’, Frontier Magazine, Leicester University.

Conference Presentations

• Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2018) ‘Modernity and ‘baby-farming’: The privatised commerce of motherhood and respectability in Victorian and Edwardian London’, British Crime Historians Symposium, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk.

• Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2017) ‘'Baby-farming' and the industrious cultivation of respectable identities, 1865-1914’, Addressing Filicide, Prato, Tuscany. • Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2016) ‘’Baby-farming’: real and imagined’, Leicester CSSAH PGR Conference, Leicester University, Leicester.

• Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2016) ‘‘Baby-farming’ and the social construction of multiple murder: killing in context’, Lunchtime Lectures, Adult Education Centre, Leicester.

• Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2016) ‘Understanding 19th century ‘baby-farming’ women who killed: aberration or ‘rational’ act?’ (poster presentation), Leicester Postgrad Research Festival, Leicester University, Leicester.

• Stuart-Bennett, J. G. (2015) ‘A socio-cultural study of ‘baby-farming’ and the female perpetrated, profitable killing of children during the late Victorian period’, Murder: Moral Panic, Mythos, Modernity, Mansfield College, Oxford.

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