Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Motherhood, Mobility and Materiality: Material Entanglements, Journey-Making and the Process of 'Becoming Mother'

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Motherhood, Mobility and Materiality: Material Entanglements, Journey-Making and the Process of 'Becoming Mother'

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper is about the entanglements or mutually affecting engagements with the material world that occur in the course of trying to becoming mobile with a small baby. Drawing on a rigorous empirical base of 37 interviews with 20 families in East London, we analyse the relationships between discourses of parenting and the material practices of journey-making. Bringing together conceptual work on the new materialism and mobility studies, we advance the concept of mother-baby assemblages as a way to understand mobile motherhood, and consider the emotional and affective dimensions of parenting in public that emerge through journey-making. We argue that the transition to motherhood occurs in part through entanglements with the more than human in the course of becoming mobile (including matter, affects, policies and built form). We further argue that approaching motherhood from the perspective of material entanglements advances geographical scholarship by deepening our understanding of mobility as a relational practice. Finally, we extend conceptual work in Geography as a whole by showing the utility of new materialist philosophy as a means for theorising identity.

Keywords

Mothering, subjectivity, parenting practice, mobility, embodiment, materiality, new materialism, mother-baby assemblages

Introduction

"Jesus Christ ... you can't prepare for it, can you, childbirth" (Laura, study participant')

The transition to motherhood typically marks a profound change to one's sense of self and ways of engaging with the world (Bailey, 1999; Miller, 2005). For many, the experience of new motherhood is a shockingly affecting one. This paper is about the practices that constitute the shock of new motherhood, focusing on the entanglements or mutually affecting engagements with the material world that occur in the course of trying to become mobile with a small baby.

Our central argument is that motherhood is an accomplishment realised in part through encounters with the more than human. Through an analysis of how engagements with the material world that occur in the course of journey-making shape mothers' understanding of themselves, we deepen both our understanding of mobility as a relational practice, as well as our understanding of motherhood. In addition to advancing scholarship in mobilities and feminist/family geography, our paper makes a conceptual contribution to the discipline as a whole by highlighting the utility of conceptual work from the new materialism as a means of better-appreciating the role of relations with the non-human in theorising subjectivity. We suggest that the focus on human non-human entanglements in the constitution of subjectivity as promoted by the new materialism advances scholarship in and beyond Geography by enabling conceptualisations of subjectivity which are richer and more complete.

Over the last two decades the spaces and practices of parenting have begun to attract more attention from Geographers (Aitken, 1998, 2000; Dowling, 2000; Dyck, 1990; Holloway, 1998; Luzia, 2010; Madge and O'Connor, 2005; McDowell et al., 2006; Pain, 2006). Within this, early parenthood specifically or what we call the transition to parenthood (roughly from birth to age one) has received attention in terms of work focusing on lesbian couples (Luzia, 2010); the role of the Internet in processes of identity-construction for new mothers (Longhurst, 2013; Madge and O'Connor, 2005); the ways parenting relates to class, community, citizenship and gender (Aitken, 1998, 2000; McDowell et al., 2006); and how parenting intersects with discourses about risk (Holloway, 1998; McDowell et al., 2006; Pain, 2006; Talbot, 2013).

Our exploration extends existing work through an analysis of the relations between discourses of parenting (and mothering in particular) and the material practices of journey-making for new mothers. As such this work both builds on scholarship on the politics of im/mobility (Cresswell, 2010) and responds to calls to apply a mobilities perspective to the study of families (Holdsworth, 2013). …

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