Reply to Stacy

By Hogan, Susan | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Reply to Stacy


Hogan, Susan, Journal of International Women's Studies


Stacy Lockerbie, JIWS, Vol. 9. No. 1. November 2007. pp.319-321 Review of Conception Diary: Thinking About Pregnancy and Motherhood. Susan Hogan. 2006. (ISBN-10: 0-9551656-0-1).

From Susan Hogan

I pick up a photo of a family group; we are dappled with sunlight and smiling. A child is being held in a woman's arms and another child looks uncertainly at the camera. Today they are all dead apart from the girl, who was disabled by a car accident, and the baby who is me. And so it is that images are unstable containers of meaning, but nevertheless it felt important to conjure up the image of, for example, the long needle sucking up the bits of placenta--a procedure watched nervously on a screen. Will he slip and suck up my baby's leg? It wasn't explicitly supposed to be 'educational', but it needed to be real.

The reviewer notes that the book 'touches on many issues that mark the cultural milieu and changing social environment of pregnancy in the UK', and, as a cultural historian, I feel this summarises my aim well enough. The book is set between the beginning of the invasion of Iraq and the Tsunami. It is not just about my own experience, but my own experience is a spring-board for a wider discussion of fertility and parenting issues. The diary reflects on the late of babies and mothers around the globe; it juxtaposes images of nurturing a baby with images of global warfare, but I hope as more than mere 'wallpaper' to the unfolding drama. It gives a critique of and commentary on the social mores surrounding pregnancy and birth, and looks at representations of fertility issues in the 'broadsheet' press and on television. I hope it is funny too: there is certainly a lot of irony in it. The reviewer finds my outlook 'bleak', when I thought it was more about the multiple identities we inhabit: the tug and pull between 'infertile woman', lover, intellectual, mum, Emile's mum, Eilish's mum, daughter-in-law with intellectual promise, psychotherapist, cultural historian, inane "funny mummy", and exhausted void--indeed, the visceral tearing between these that can make new motherhood utterly intolerable for some women (Hogan 2008).

The book deliberately moves between genres. As a former fine artist, I know that art works can play and tease. Texts under scrutiny are not interpreted in a dogmatic way; rather, texts are seen as open to multiple interpretations: to use Burgin's words, the meaning of the text is generated in the 'space between the object and the reader/viewer--a space made up of endlessly proliferating meanings which have no stable point of origin, nor of closure' (Burgin 1986:73).

A number of views are attributed to me which are representations of the subject, rather than my personal views. Interpretive postmodernist researchers tend to believe that no 'complete' theory or 'final' understanding or 'reading' is possible, and use techniques aimed at producing a polysemous view of culture (James, Hockey & Dawson 1997:2).

Producing a provisional, situated, reflexive yet multi-faceted, account of a particular situation which resists reductive interpretation in its very complexity is surely an apt aim for the post-modern researcher? Perhaps I should be pleased that my in many ways very insightful reviewer found it 'disorientating' or 'frustrating' because it is slippery and hard to pin down.

Though I long to remain illusive, tantalising, and indeed 'disorientating', I feel obliged to answer the questions raised about ethical issues. I thought it mildly paradoxical that though I never named my mother-in-law, the reviewer, through research, discovered her identity and named her. I note that the reviewer is also an anthropologist and it makes me wonder if anthropologists are particularly guilt-ridden because of their former links with colonial administration, with an agenda to 'dominate, govern and use', as Carole Pateman put it (2007). Investigative journalists don't feel so guilt ridden do they? …

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