This panel explored a range of classed figurations of the maternal. It had two primary aims: firstly, to explore the relationship between social class and 'the maternal' and secondly to foreground the relative absence of psycho-social or psychoanalytic theoretical work on what Diane Reay has called 'The Psychic Landscape of Social Class' (2005). The data explored in this panel primarily originates from 'social spheres', popular and sensationalist media, art practice and 'everyday life'. It aimed to engage with analysis of these mediums and materials, and to initiate debate about the ways in which visible class representations and invisible class relations structure not only 'maternal publics' and also our most intimate, personal and 'interior' sense of ourselves as 'maternal subjects', as well as the ways in which 'visceral aversions, recognition, abjection and the markings of taste constitute a psychic economy of social class [that] contributes powerfully to the ways we are, feel and act' (Reay, 2005, p. 911). Four speakers presented their work on mothers, and three of these talks have been developed for publication in this issue.
My paper 'Pramface: Infertility and Class Disgust' is absent from this issue, but I want to say something about this presentation to give a full account of what I feel was a really interesting panel on 'Troubling Mothers'. This paper developed some earlier research on social class and motherhood, and focused on two ways in which the maternal is currently imagined, represented and figured in public discourse: the infertile woman; and her counterpart, the overly fertile young working class mum (see Tyler 2008, Tyler in press and Tyler & Bennett in press). This paper considers the relationship between the social stigma directed towards young unwed working-class mothers and infertility. It begins with some historical context, a book written by the New Zealand Edwardian physician eugenicist William Chapple, 'The Fertility of the Unfit' (1903). This book outlines a proposal for the forced sterilisation of women in order to solve what Chapple saw as civilisation's "imminent peril of being swamped by the increasingly disproportionate progeny of the criminal". Taking this popular eugenicism as a starting point, this paper tracks a route through contemporary media culture, exploring the relationship between these two representational schema, the middle class 'fertility crisis', which was announced in the early 1990s, and the overly fertile young working class mum, currently castigated in the term 'pramface'. It explores the relationship between these figures, the tension between what one blogger describes as 'fertile fertiles and the infertiles that hate them' (barrenalbion, 2005). These two figures are, I argued, central to the prevailing public imagination of the maternal, and read together are revealing of the ways in which class disgust and fertility anxiety circulate in 'maternal publicity' and are employed instrumentally as a form of 'gendered governance' and (more complexly) are embodied in lived maternal practices. A full written version of this paper will be included in a future issue of Studies in the Maternal.
In 'Warmth and wealth: re-imagining social class in taxonomies of good parenting', media scholar Tracey Jensen explores the rise of public discourses of 'good parenting' and the new emphasis on parenting as 'the key to unlocking aspiration and compensating for social and economic disadvantage'. Jensen argues that 'good parenting' is now imaged as somehow able to mediate all other factors of disadvantage and has become the central plank of many of the social and political discourses about social inclusion and poverty. At the centre of rhetoric about the transformatory impact of good parenting are the claims that a large and growing 'evidence base' supports putting parenting skills at the top of the political agenda. As Jensen argues, what is hidden within claims of evidence is that fact that this evidence is 'funded, commissioned and orchestrated by the same political actors who insist upon the significance of 'good parenting' above all other factors'. In this paper, Jensen undertakes an analysis of one example from this growing 'evidence base'; a Demos report Building Character, which is a policy review and statistical interpretation of data produced by the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). Jensen argues that this statistical data is much weaker than it is presented to be in the report and, by tracking the later dissemination mediation of this report, she is able to show how its findings are distorted to fit the political agenda around parenting. Jensen is particularly interested in a shift in parenting rhetoric from 'wealth' to 'warmth' within this data, and considers what this shift might mean. Jensen is emerging as a significant scholar of parenting culture and this paper, along with her other published work is, I think, a really important critique of parenting culture, and an exposure of the ways in which 'parenting' so often as a concept conceals gendered and classed assumptions about maternal care (see Jensen 2009, 2010).
In '"They've taken her!": Psychoanalytic perspectives on mediating maternity, feeling and loss', media and film studies scholar Caroline Bainbridge examines the news media which surrounded the disappearance of the four-year-old British child Madeleine McCann in May 2007. Bainbridge focuses on the ways in which female journalists write about Madeline's mother, Kate McCann, and analyses in depth what the judgments about Kate McCann reveal about classed maternal femininity in contemporary Britain. Drawing on psychoanalysis and on the work of Luce Irigaray, Bainbridge is interested in thinking about why Kate McCann promoted such a negative and affective response in the news media; why she became such a significant and affective measure of 'femininity' in this moment, and why she triggered postfeminism debates about work/life balance and middle class motherhood. Bainbridge is Director of the AHRC funded Media and the Inner World Research Networki, and this paper demonstrates why it is so useful for media scholars to engage with psycho-social debates. In particular, Bainbridge has pioneered the application of the work of Luce Irigaray in film and media studies, and this paper extends this work in news media analysis (see Bainbridge, 2008).
In 'The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home presents Affective Exchange of Labour between Invisible Mother and Underpaid Au Pair', performance artist and scholar Lena Simic discusses invisible maternal labour and underpaid au pair labour in relation to three arts projects which took place through the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home, Liverpool, UK:
Sid Jonah Anderson by Lena Simic, Live Art Event (MAP Live, Carlisle 2008)
The Hazardous Family Performance Intervention, (Hazard Festival, Manchester 2008)
Au Pair Artist wants to be part of the Liverpool EU Capital of Culture 2008 with Great British family Artist Residency (Cvjeticanin, Polygon 2008)
Simic discusses how these arts projects self-consciously draw upon historical materialist feminist art from the late 1960s and 1970s, but also draw inspiration from anti-capitalist and feminist art/activism centered on ideas of 'the personal is political'. These are projects relate and intersect with Simic's work with 'The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home', an art activist initiative, run out of the spare room of her family council house in Everton, Liverpool, UK. The Institute is run by Simic and her husband, Gary Anderson, and includes their children, Neal, Gabriel and Sid. The Institute is described as being concerned with 'dissent, homemade aesthetics, financial transparency as well as critiquing the capitalism of culture'ii. It also has an abiding concern with thinking about the family as an institutional formation as a potential space for art and political activism. What binds the three art projects Simic discusses in this paper together is their emphasis on exposing the history of invisibility of maternal labour in different geographical and spatial locations, including the Institute itself. At the end of her paper, Simic argues for what she terms 'affective creative exchange' as a way of addressing the politics of this lack of recognition of maternal labour.
Together this panel forced recognition of the class politics of motherhood, and addressed some of the ways in which new hegemonies of the maternal are being mediated and bodied forth. All three of the papers published here are interesting and provoking. Perhaps the most creative contribution on this panel came from Simic, who electrified the audience with video footage of her performance work. Indeed, Simic's practice as an artist-activist-mother recast the issue of 'troubling mothers' into a call to mothers for more trouble, a timely reminder of the enduring need for collective maternal protest.
Bainbridge, C., 2008. A Feminine Cinematics: Luce Irigaray, Women and Film. London: Palgrave
'barrenalbion' 2005. 'Fertile Fertiles and the Infertiles that Hate Them' online at: http://barrenalbion.blogspot.com/2005/01/fertile-fertiles-and-infertiles-that.html
Chapple, W. 1903. The Fertility of the Unfit. Christchurch and London: Whitcombe and Tombs.
Jensen, T., 2009. Why are people watching Supernanny? In: Bristow, J., ed. Standing Up To Supernanny. Imprint Academic: Exeter
Jensen, T., 2010. What kind of mum are you at the moment? Supernanny and the psychologising of classed embodiment. Subjectivity 3, 170–192.
Reay, D., 2005. Beyond Consciousness?: The Psychic Landscape of Social Class. Sociology 39 (5), 911-928.
Tyler, I., in press. Pregnant Beauties: Maternal Femininities under Neoliberalism. In Rosalind Gill and Christina Scharff, eds. New Femininities: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Identity. Palgrave.
Tyler, I., and Bennett, B., in press Celebrity Chav: Fame, Femininity and Social Class. European Journal of Cultural Studies.
Tyler, I., 2008. "Chav Mum, Chav Scum": Class Disgust in Contemporary Britain. Feminist Media Studies, 8 (1), 17-34.
(i) See the Media and the Inner World website for further information http://www.miwnet.org/?t=anon
(ii) See the Institute's website for more information http://twoaddthree.org/