Academic journal article Fathering

The Pick and Mix of Fathering Identities

Academic journal article Fathering

The Pick and Mix of Fathering Identities

Article excerpt

Whilst mainstream parenting literature charts widespread changing working and family practices (Smock & Greenland, 2010), I argue that there is a need for evidence examining the everyday negotiations of work-family integration for fathers. In particular, the dearth of existing literature covering changing parenting practices along gender lines insufficiently develops accounts of the fluidity of fathering identities. Furthermore, it is limited in its examination of how hegemonic masculinities are embedded within dominant fathering and working discourse (Marsiglio, Amato, Day & Lamb, 2000).

In this paper, I use discursive research to illustrate the primacy of paid work to fathering identities, and how these present everyday challenges to fathers as they negotiate their identities. Here, I draw on accounts from qualitative interviews with nine employed, first time fathers in the United Kingdom to question the enduring construct of the male breadwinner. I present a critical consideration of the UK context of fathering in which financial imperatives are driving firmly fixed normative work-family practices.

In Seward and Richter's (2008) discussion of fathering in the 21st century they call for the expansion of scholarly study on fathering issues to seek new horizons. They advocate, "An important question to ask is, to what extent, if at all, is a new approach to fatherhood possible under the domination of hegemonic masculinity?"(2008, p. 89). To address this question, I begin by suggesting that, in the UK, there have been some attempts within social, economic and political discourse to construct a gender neutral dual earner family (Gatrell, 2004). This is constructed on the premise of eroding the traditional gendered binary of male breadwinner and female primary caregiver. However, in the UK, the contemporary dual earner family construct itself is saturated with hegemonic representations of work-family practices and policies based on the traditional breadwinner and caregiver binary.

I propose that when fathering talk is examined discursively, we can begin to move away from static enduring constructions to alternative epistemologies acknowledging the complexity of work-family integration and the fluidity of fathering identities. To explore how stakeholders; particularly scholars, researchers and fathers themselves can facilitate this; I draw on qualitative research of fathers talking about their experiences of work-family integration. I now turn to explain this in more detail to provide the landscape of researching fathering identities using a specifically discursive methodological approach.


In this paper, I propose undertaking research on fathering identities drawing on poststructuralist approaches, namely discursive research. A discursive research framework affords the opportunity to focus on the socially constructed nature of fathering. This is in line with contemporary UK research on Men as Fathers lead by Henwood, Finn and Shirani (2008) who advocate a discursive approach.

Although there may be no one right or wrong way of approaching the study of men, masculinity or fatherhood, we believe that certain basic assumptions are now known to be unhelpful (e.g. masculinity and fatherhood as monolithic, unproblematic and unchanging entities). In this we are restating a (milestone) epistemic point for taking a discursive approach to identity. (Henwood, Finn & Shirani, 2008, p. 2)

Discursive research is the study of practices which systematically inform the objects of which they speak (Foucault, 1972, p. 49). Thus, fathers talking about fathering practices inform their constructions and representations of fathering identities. These identities are constructed and reproduced both in language and social reality. The data generated in the process of interviewing fathers about their everyday experiences of work-family life captures the messiness of everyday life as it is constructed and represented by those interviewed (Cameron, 2001). …

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