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Maternal ambivalence in contemporary Australia: navigating equity and care

Garvan, Joan Frances

Description

The thesis argues that an important step in an agenda calling for change is a re-signification of the mother–infant connection from a role to a relationship so as to embed the subject position of the woman-as-mother and enhance her reflexive stance. It identifies intersections between structure and agency as played out in the lives of a small group of women in the early years after the birth of their first child. It contributes to a call for transformational change so as to accommodate...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorGarvan, Joan Frances
dc.date2010-06
dc.date.accessioned2010-11-18T03:55:43Z
dc.date.accessioned2011-01-04T02:33:44Z
dc.date.available2010-11-18T03:55:43Z
dc.date.available2011-01-04T02:33:44Z
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/49388
dc.identifier.urihttp://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/49388
dc.description.abstractThe thesis argues that an important step in an agenda calling for change is a re-signification of the mother–infant connection from a role to a relationship so as to embed the subject position of the woman-as-mother and enhance her reflexive stance. It identifies intersections between structure and agency as played out in the lives of a small group of women in the early years after the birth of their first child. It contributes to a call for transformational change so as to accommodate dependency while attending to gender equal outcomes. The study is multidisciplinary, bringing together gender, sociology, psychoanalysis and health through a conceptual framework informed by the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Cornelius Castoriadis, Jessica Benjamin and Lois McNay. It locates the work of care through the dependency theory of Eva Feder Kittay and Martha Fineman and the proposition that both the state and the market rely on the family for care. Data are drawn from in-depth and semi-structured interviews with sixteen first-time mothers from Sydney and Canberra. The participants self identified from posters circulated through playgroups and childcare centres from northern, southern, eastern and western suburbs to ensure a diverse sample. What has generally been thought of as a paradox between the rights of women and an assertion of gender difference associated with the maternal body can be recast in terms of tensions. The family as a social unit in the early twenty-first century is marked by tension and change evidenced through the experience of women when they first become mothers. Research that focuses on the early years after the birth of an infant under the banner of the Transition to Parenthood brings to light gendered economic outcomes, maternal stress, depression and a decline in marital satisfaction; in essence a mismatch between expectations and experience that is played out through the sense of self. This is a consequence of a divergence between cultural trends and social structuring with a lack of recognition of both intersubjective dynamics between women-as-mothers and their infants and intrapsychic processes of the self. I cast this dissonance in terms of tensions between macrosocial and microsocial factors. A disjuncture is evident through the ambivalences of these new mothers. In the interview data there is a sense of displaced self, difficulties reconnecting with former lives through the workplace, and often disruptions within families arising from unfulfilled expectations. There is nevertheless a strong and abiding connection with their infants. Motherhood is often characterized as selfless. The needs and interests of the infant/child became paramount and this is seen as a good thing, a moral imperative. Identifications with one’s mother and/or the projected interests of the child or family promote continuity while everyday expectations and practices within families point to change. Women have historically promoted both social and cultural capital through asserting the interests of their families and child/ren. However, attending to these related tasks generally comes at an economic cost and at a cost to their health. There is a significant body of both academic and popular texts reflecting on the experience of being a mother at the microsocial level which is accompanied by a common experience of ambivalence in locating the maternal self. There is evidence of movement for change at the macrosocial level through a rethinking of welfare economics, feminist proponents calling for a public ethic of care, trends towards a gender equal or egalitarian family form, a feminist mothers’ movement, and the emergence of a concept of social care.
dc.language.isoen
dc.rights.uriThe Australian National University
dc.subjectsociology
dc.subjectCornelius Castoriadis
dc.subjectPierre Bourdieu
dc.subjectsocial capital
dc.subjectcultural capital
dc.subjectradical imaginary
dc.subjectsocial imaginary
dc.subjectLois McNay
dc.subjectLisa Adkins
dc.subjectJessica Benjamin
dc.subjectmaternal ambivalence
dc.subjectmaternal health
dc.subjectgender
dc.subjectpsychoanalysis
dc.subjectfeminist social theory
dc.subjectintersubjectivity
dc.subjectstructure and agency
dc.subjectdependency theory
dc.subjectmaternal and child health
dc.subjectmaternal role
dc.subjectrelationships
dc.subjectmidwifery
dc.subjectcare
dc.titleMaternal ambivalence in contemporary Australia: navigating equity and care
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
dcterms.valid2010
local.description.refereedYes
local.type.degreeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.date.issued2010-11-18T03:55:43Z
local.contributor.affiliationGender, Sexuality and Culture Program, School of Cultural Inquiry
local.contributor.affiliationThe Australian National University
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