Mother-child relations and the discourse of maternity

Davis, R. (2011) Mother-child relations and the discourse of maternity. Ethics and Education, 6(2), pp. 125-139. (doi: 10.1080/17449642.2011.622979)

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In the critical assessment of the rise of what Jameson has termed the modern centred subject … the lived experience of individual consciousness as a monadic and autonomous centre of activity, significant attention has been devoted to the impact of the institutions of the late eighteenth century ‘bourgeois cultural revolution’ such as the family and the school. Less consideration has been given in this history of regulated subjectivity to the emergence within key centres of cultural production of the discourse of maternity and its lasting consequences for the understanding and representation of the mother–child bond as a matrix of both affectional relations and infant development. The late eighteenth century reconfiguration of the family as, in Jameson's words a private space within the nascent public sphere of bourgeois society intensified the ‘separation of the spheres’ begun in the early modern period and further formalised the zoning of the domestic experience as the defining site of emotional specialisation and individual growth. In the culture of early romanticism, this differentiation of domestic roles elevated children as the primary objects of a new regime of intergenerational care, replacing disciplinary control with intimate nurture and valorising a particular construction of motherhood as the ethical base of domestic piety and social stability beyond even the semantic reach of reason. Understanding the cultural processes by which this important ideological shift reshaped the paradigm of parent–child relations in industrial society – radiating beyond the realm of the family into the wider systems of childcare and education – enables us better to discern its continuing influence on perceptions of family life and motherhood today and to critically evaluate its potential contribution to changing conceptions of the place of the family in contemporary democratic society.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Davis, Professor Robert
Authors: Davis, R.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Education
College of Social Sciences > School of Education > People, Place & Social Change
Journal Name:Ethics and Education
ISSN (Online):1744-9650
Published Online:08 December 2011

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