Academic journal article Hecate

Mothers' Money in Singapore

Academic journal article Hecate

Mothers' Money in Singapore

Article excerpt

This paper is about the role of money in the lives of mothers. My research had initially categorised mothers into three groups for the purpose of analysis: mothers who have never worked and homemaker mothers turned workers; mothers who have always worked and working mothers turned homemakers. It was first assumed that differences in the work status of mothers would be the dominant shaping factor determining mothers' perspective on money. After all, feminist theorisation has alluded often enough to the double and triple load of married women. (1)

However, exploratory analysis of interview data revealed that the class position of mothers was also a crucial determining factor. Especially for working class mothers, money basically means survival. Apart from class, our data also disclose that other factors such as culture, personality and age have a separate role in shaping mothers' experience with money.

As a consequence, although analysis undertaken in this paper is based primarily on the dual dimensions of the class and work status of mothers, additional details from interview data are also considered because mothers do not operate in a social vacuum. A mother with an autistic child would be in a different situation from a mother whose very bright child has gained state sponsorship throughout her school life. Considering all these factors together provides a larger and more meaningful picture of how mothers experience money in Singapore.

Neoclassical economists have conceptualised money in functional terms. Their utilitarian approach to money has traditionally defined money by its chief functions: money as a store of value, a means of exchange, a method of payment, and a unit of account. Arguing against this rather simplistic and idealist way of conceptualising something as complex as money, (2) social theorists such as Simmel have offered a more holistic perspective to understand money in all its multidimensional forms.

Sociologists have offered three alternative approaches that can provide a more in-depth understanding of the different dimensions of money. The Marxist concept of money as universal equivalent is foundational and points to money as basic to livelihood and survival in capitalist societies. Despite the multiplication of money forms, money has retained its fundamental character, essentially captured by Marx's concept of the universal equivalent: interpreted as the monopoly over the ability to buy. Across all three categories of mothers, the absolute ability to buy (money of account in which prices are calculated) is key to understanding mothers and their relationship to money. Additionally, a mother's stand on money matters often has to do with the social circle in which she is embedded. A mother with a chronically sick child or an alcoholic husband will be in a quite different situation to a mother whose children are healthy and whose husband is responsible and predictable.

Money's importance as a basis of life in capitalism gives it a pivotal role as an agent of change. The commercialisation of mothers in a variety of ways has significant impact on the lives of their families. In this respect, money's dual and paradoxical character is clearly portrayed in our respondents' relation to money as both liberating and oppressive at the same time. As Zelizer states,

    All moneys are actually dual: they serve both general and
   local circuits ... Seen from the top, economic transactions
   connect with broad national symbolic meanings and
   institutions. Seen from the bottom, however, economic
   transactions are highly differentiated, personalized, and local,
   meaningful to particular relations. No contradiction therefore
   exists between uniformity and diversity: they are simply two
   different aspects of the same transaction. (3) 

The dual and differential dimensions of money provide the opportunity for rich sociological analysis of how work and money have enriched and liberated mothers on the one hand, but also oppressed them in other ways when mothers engage with the commercial sector. …

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