A Pluralistic Discourse Analysis of Media Representations of Single Mothers by Choice

Prof Doc Thesis

Rickwood, A. 2021. A Pluralistic Discourse Analysis of Media Representations of Single Mothers by Choice. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology https://doi.org/10.15123/uel.89w36
AuthorsRickwood, A.
TypeProf Doc Thesis

The newly enabled position of a single mother by choice (SMC) sits at the margins between constructions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mothering. SMC describes women who
choose to parent without a cohabiting partner, which is increasingly often done using alternative reproductive technologies.
This research examines personal narrative newspaper articles featuring SMCs from the UK. The data was selected in two tranches and offers an exploration of present constructions of the subject position, as well as a historical variability. I have chosen to look at newspaper articles as a key site where power is circulated and where dominant discourses are both reflected and constituted. This research asks how discourses have been negotiated to enable SMC to resist being constructed as ‘bad’ mothers and avoid the repercussions which this would entail. A combined approach of Foucauldian discourse analysis and discursive psychology was used to give a macro and micro perspective, focusing on power and legitimisation. Three discursive sites were identified: constructing single parenting as problematic, constructing single parenting as viable, and a modern family form.
I have argued that in order to validate taking up the subject position of SMC, it was produced as an avoidance of other subject positions that could be constructed as riskier to maintain or assume. These included the ‘childfree woman’ and the ‘divorced mother’. Most significantly, the SMC construction was understood as being distinct from the common pejorative construction of the teenaged lone mother. As such, SMCs were produced as good neoliberal citizens, with a focus on planning, preparation, and responsibility. A postfeminist version of mothering was also constructed, which paradoxically encourages an intensive self-surveillance by mothers in terms of their personal status, and with an emphasis on a child-centred, selfless approach to parenting. As such, constructions of heteronormativity were seen to coexist with constructions of celibacy and sexlessness. In addition, the position of SMC was understood to have become increasingly coupled with assisted reproductive technologies as a route to conception, reinforcing the construction of SMC as sexless, and producing SMC as a consumer position. In some instances, SMC was seen to be constructed as the ideal parenting position with a focus on control, intensive mothering, and individualism.
This research has interrogated how power operates to constrain mothering subject positions discursively. The constructions drew attention to a range of institutional and self-disciplinary practices, which suggested conformity to and resistance of norms. The pervasiveness of the ideologies of neoliberalism and postfeminism within the context of ideal motherhood were challenged, whereby autonomy, self-reflexiveness and individuality are privileged qualities. This thesis suggests that clinicians do the same, both in practice and as part of their commitment to social justice, in order to evaluate how circulating ideologies oppress certain mothering subject positions.

KeywordsPostfeminism; neoliberalism; motherhood constructs; discourse analysis
PublisherUniversity of East London
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/uel.89w36
File Access Level
Publication dates
Online28 Sep 2021
Publication process dates
Submitted21 Jul 2021
Deposited28 Sep 2021
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