Motherhood and violence: taking agency and challenging the dominant gaze

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther (conference)


Motherhood is often painted as an idyllic time. It is a social space and field where women are expected to cope, be fulfilled and be good mothers. The emotional capital which embodies motherhood is thought to be in abundance in women. However, the notion of what a good mother is and the abundance of emotional capital is problematic. In western society it is very much linked to class - good mothering being equated to dominant middle-class symbolic power/bad mother being seen as lacking and working class. To be dominant is to be able to define what a society values as distinction which, in turn, corresponds to what the dominant classes possess and display; thus reproducing their own dominance as 'legitimised distinction'. We see this at work clearly in notions of distinction where underlying class domination is transposed into an assertion of cultural superiority which the dominated accept as an innate attribute of the dominant in motherhood. Moreover, as asserted by Bourdieu, the state holds the domination of legitimate symbolic violence, the state agents, for example social workers, teachers and workplace managers and these distinctions, defining what it is, to have legitimate symbolic capital to be a 'good' mother, learner and worker. This seminar draws on my recent longitudinal, ethnographic study 'Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners' to explore how learners were pathologised across the field of motherhood, by those in a position of power for not having what are considered legitimate capitals or enough of them. For example, lone parents were considered as not having parenting practices and ways of being which adhered to what was considered the dominant taste in the mediation between the agents of the state (social workers) and the parents. I will argue that the social and cultural practices in the field regulated and shaped hierarchies of social order; the cultural capitals, when viewed through the dominant lens privileging the middle-classes. However, and importantly, the familiarity by which the learners were pathologised did not become naturalised to them and they were not passive. Although they struggled with low self-esteem and anxiety they took agency and offered resistance against the labels, a counter culture that allowed them symbolic capital in the context of their own communities. Duckworth, V. (2013) Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners London: Routledge
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2016
EventMMU Education and Social Research Institute Seminars - Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Nov 2014 → …


OtherMMU Education and Social Research Institute Seminars
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period12/11/14 → …


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