Academic journal article Hagar

Stretching Mothering: Gender, Space and Information Communication Technologies1

Academic journal article Hagar

Stretching Mothering: Gender, Space and Information Communication Technologies1

Article excerpt

Abstract

This research reports on interviews with 35 mothers in Hamilton, New Zealand, about their use of information communication technologies (ICTs) to develop and maintain emotional links with their children. It is informed by work on gender, communications, families, "stretched out communities" and transnationalism, which enabled me to think more deeply about this issue. Interviews revealed that the gendered spaces of mothering are now being stretched beyond the home. Cell phones, Skype (software application used to make voice and video calls), Facebook (social networking site) and email were among the most common ICTs mothers discussed as shaping their relationship with children, both those living at home and those who have left home. The research concludes, however, that this does not mean that the gendered discourses surrounding mothering are necessarily being radically reconfigured. Mothers continue to take a large share of the responsibility for running households and providing care for children.

Introduction

This research aims to find out how a group of 35 mothers in Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand, and their children of a variety of ages (infant through to adult) are developing and maintaining emotional and familial links using a range of information communication technologies, namely cell phones (used for mobile calling and texting), Skype (software program used for making voice and video calls), Facebook (social networking site) and email (electronic mail used for exchanging digital messages). Continual changes in technology, such as enhanced bandwidth and smartphones that connect to the Internet, are increasingly facilitating ways of keeping in touch. I am interested to see how these ICTs might be prompting new gendered subjectivities and embodied performances for mothers in relation to their children.

Elsewhere I have argued that I do not think there is a stable foundation, or essence, to being a mother, but that the practices and behaviors that surround mothering are discursively produced in a variety of spatial and temporal contexts (Longhurst, 2008). As Claire Madge and Henrietta O'Connor (2005:94) explain:

There is no preconstituted "body" on to which motherhood is inscribed; what it means to be a mother is constantly produced and reproduced through varying and competing discourses and practices from a variety of different people and places.

In addressing the issue of mothers using ICTs, I recognize that mothers use these technologies for a variety of purposes, not just for mothering. I also recognize that using ICTs is more important to some mothers than to others. For the purposes of this research, however, I am interested in how ICTs have become, in recent years, an integral part of mothering for many women. Given this, it is timely to address this topic.

As geographers and others have argued, the Internet is not a space that is separate or disconnected from the real world (Kitchin, 1998a, 1998b; see also Adams, 1997, 2007; Bell, 2009; Bell and Kennedy, 2007; Crang, Crang and May, 1999). Identities of individuals, families, communities and even nations are mediated through ICTs (Madianou, 2005). Interactions in cyberspace affect interactions in real space and vice versa (Graham, 1998, 2004). It is not surprising, then, that people develop and maintain relational and emotional links through technological interfaces such as the Internet and cell phones. Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin explain that cyberspace "allows us to explore who we are, as well as changing who we are; it provides new spaces in which communities can develop" (2001:52).2 "Real" space and cyberspace are both experienced through the body (Hardey. 2002; Shapiro. 2010). People conduct their personal, familial and emotional lives in a myriad of ways in a variety of spaces. Bodies and spaces-"real" and cyber-are entangled. This includes the bodies and spaces of mothers and children.

This article begins with a brief review of some of the recent scholarship that has informed this project. …

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