Producing the new mother : surveillance, normalisation and maternal learning

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This thesis is an investigation of maternal learning through the experiences of fifteen women who were learning to mother their first born infants within a white anglo-centric culture. These women provided stories about their experiences of pregnancy, birth and the early days of mothering during a series of interviews. Poststructural and feminist approaches have been used to inform this research study. These approaches have resulted in an analysis that troubles several of the dominant maternal discourses that are frequently used in two complementary ways: first, to explain the seemingly inexplicable ability to mother as 'maternal instinct', and second, within a specific culture, to provide the criteria for maternal attitudes and behaviours. The use of a poststructural framing has enabled an unsettling of the frequently accepted and taken-for-granted understandings about maternal learning through asking how it works and why women act in certain ways and not in other ways? There are two major sections to this thesis. The first section provides a theoretical positioning within the practice disciplines of adult education, parent education and nursing, and an overview of poststructural and feminist understandings and research applications of discourse analysis. The analysis work of this thesis commences within the second section where maternal discourses are examined and the resulting discursive constructions of maternal subject positions are foregrounded. Tensions and contradictions within the women's stories are explored and taken-for-granted explanations about women's apparently inexplicable or 'natural' ability to mother are challenged. Counter constructions for the taken-for-granted understandings about maternal ability are offered through the use of the discourses of memory, habitus and incidental learning. These three discourses assist in thinking about maternal learning and why some women have such difficulty taking on the multiple subject positions of motherhood, while the ability to mother seems to 'just happen' for other women. Of importance to this study is the inability of language to provide a common meaning for maternal experiences or to adequately portray the complexity of maternal experience, learning and knowledge. This understanding signals the possibility for maternal knowledge being a predominantly `somatically' based knowledge acquired throughout a woman's life as an outcome of incidental learning. The recognition of somatic knowledge as an important element in the development of maternal knowledge has significant implications for nursing practice, and the way in which maternal learning is facilitated.
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