This Special Issue of Studies in the Maternal draws together scholarly, literary and artistic work presented at a conference entitled 'Motherhood, Servitude and the Delegation of Care', hosted by MaMSIE (Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics) and held at Birkbeck, University of London, in May 2011. Alongside the conference, the organizers instigated an arts competition, 'Maternal Subjectivities: Care and Labour', inviting artists working across a range of digital media to respond to the conjunction of these terms.
The titles of both the conference and arts competition were intended to speak to a set of tense relations within histories of feminist theorizing about care. They index debates about the ongoing gendering and racialisation of care; the relation between gender, migration, 'race', ethnicity and particular forms and practices of subordination; and the ways that governing the necessity for care has led to the exacerbation of social inequalities between women. Historical debates within feminist care ethics, from Mary Wollstonecraft through to a diverse array of contemporary ethicists,(1) have tended to focus on the need to shift a bias in moral philosophy that has over-emphasized a rational, auto-affective, individuated subject at the expense of ethical values allegedly associated with the 'feminine', such as kindness, empathy, and relatedness - values associated with a capacity for care. Whilst the assumption of the link between the 'feminine' and these ethical values has also been unpicked within the care ethics literature, the remarkable persistence of women's involvement in material caring practices continually troubles an easy uncoupling of 'feminine' and 'care'. In addition, post-colonial scholars have drawn attention to a tendency for discussions about the ethics of care to focus on the European and North American national contexts, failing to address the wider global issues associated with what are now referred to as 'global care-chains' that have emerged to fill the 'care-deficit' produced by increased educational opportunities for women in wealthy nations during the post-war period, and the concomitant feminisation of the workplace (2). If we track the phenomenon of migrant workers taking up domestic and care work in the homes and institutions of countries in the global North, whilst maintaining complex care relations with family members and others in the global South, we can learn much, as Fiona Williams states, about social change in the 21st century, including changing patterns of 'women's work' and new relational constellations between women that arise as a result. The proliferation of contemporary global care-chains 'highlights the changing paths of post-colonial migration, its increasing feminisation, shifting national and supranational boundaries, and related issues of documentation, unregulated labour, citizenship rights and racialised hierarchies within nation states. In addition, these aspects all burrow their way into the day-to-day social, personal and intimate power relations within the household that employs a migrant worker to care and/or to clean' (Williams, 2010, pg 385). 'Care', in other words, cannot be thought outside of the ongoing processes of post-colonial exploitation, migration and globalization, which themselves materialize in, and give shape to, intimate relations within the home.
This 'burrowing' of socially, politically and publically produced power-relations into the 'intimate' or private power-relations of the home assumes, however, a public-private distinction that is itself challenged by the performance of care. If 'motherhood', for example, is always already shared between a range of social actors and institutions (paid and unpaid care workers, nursery workers, teachers, parents, siblings and other family members, for instance, as well as a range of State governed institutions) then it is not simply located within the home, nor the domain of women, and certainly not the sole responsibility of those we call 'biological' mothers whom would then 'delegate' such care. However, at the same time, the deliberate insertion of the term 'motherhood' alongside the terms servitude, delegation, care and labour in the two conference titles calls on us to address difficult issues surrounding the specific practices of care for children. 'Motherhood', with its weight of normative associations and sedimented genealogies, raises questions of power and vulnerability, attachment and separation, love, loss and desire that are also spread and experienced across multiple locations. How, for instance, do we understand the maternal subjectivities and identities of those who mother their children in another continent through social media technologies, such as skype, facebook and mobile phones, whilst being employed to offer particular modes of 'sensitive' or 'intensive' parenting to the children of other mothers who employ them? What kinds of emotional economies does this give rise to? This question itself reconfigures notions of public and private, exterior power relations and their intimate counter-parts, as transnational mothering reveals emotional and intimate practices that are spread across private and public spheres and across kinship constellations that may otherwise be conceptualized as distinct. Further questions arise from the conjunction of motherhood and the delegation of care: for what reasons is maternal work that is delegated to other women assigned to 'mothers' in the first place, rather than being seen as a matter of shared public responsibility? And crucially, as we focus more and more on the contemporary shifts in migration at a global level, how do these patterns relate to histories of migration and domestic labour, and to histories of service, servitude and slavery?
The conference aimed to elucidate these continuous configurations of care and labour through bringing into focus three bodies of feminist thought that are not always articulated together: social histories of servants, domestic service and slavery; creative writing that explores similar themes at the border of fact and fiction; and researchers investigating contemporary patterns of migration and domestic work. The questions the conference sought to address were: How do we understand the (maternal) subjectivities of a range of care workers and what might a consideration of such subjectivities contribute to our understandings of the maternal? What are the political, economic, affective and subjective effects of sharing maternal labour? How do histories of class, servitude, service, gender, 'race', and 'care' interact with contemporary neoliberal patterns of migration? And what are the potentials for new relations that might emerge from specific constellations of maternal subjectivity and modes of care work?
The responses that we have gathered together here are interdisciplinary and wide-ranging in their forms, methodologies and standpoints. What they have in common is an attempt to articulate the many relational constellations that mothering provokes - between women and their children, women and the market, women and material culture, between women themselves, and between women at different historical, intergenerational and contemporary conjunctions.
We are honoured to be including major contributions by the feminist philosopher Stella Sandford, the anthropologist Daniel Miller, the sociologists Rosie Cox and Rachel Thomson, the author Kate Pullinger, and the social historian Lucy Delap, who presented papers at the conference alongside Alison Light, Mirca Madianou, Jenny Mitchell, Imogen Tyler, and Helen Wood. We have previously published an excerpt from Jenny Mitchell's powerful novel, The Abundance of Water, that deals with the legacies of transatlantic enslavement on subsequent generations of both masters and the enslaved (see Studies in the Maternal, 2009: 2(1)). Jenny shared a panel with Kate Pullinger and the excerpt from The Abundance of Water could be read alongside Kate Pullinger's contribution to this current Issue. We are also delighted to be presenting a selection of work by the six winners of the digital media competition: Christine Wilks for Underbelly, Marie-Josiane Agossou & Esther Jones for The Order of Things, Hester Jones for Call Yourself a Mother, Hollie McNish for Push Kick and Marina Velez for Mother: ing and Strowis Motherhood.
Stella Sandford, in her paper What is Maternal Labour helpfully lays out the groundwork for thinking about the problematic and potentially incommensurable conjunction 'maternal labour', without at the same time rejecting the category all together. Sandford maintains that if we do reject the category there is a danger that maternal work returns to being thought of as instinctual impulse or 'non-work'. However, thinking through Marxist feminist debates of 1970s and 1980s, she also shows how difficult it is to simply propose mothering as 'labour' in the Marxist sense. The problem, as she formulates it, is this: 'when we try to think maternal labour as labour, under the general category of labour, which, as Marx says, 'corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labour to another, and where the specific kind is a matter of chance for them, hence of indifference', we lose what is specific in maternal labour, which is precisely not a matter of indifference to the individual who labours. This suggests that the category of labour cannot bear the association with the maternal without swallowing it up. On the other hand, when we try to insist on what is specific to the maternal in the idea of maternal labour, on what is not a matter of indifference, it loses its character as labour, as able to be thought as part of the social-political whole [.]' (this issue, pg. 9). The contradiction in the category, however, she sees as a reflection of a contradiction in reality: 'between the demands of capitalist production, according to which all aspects of existence must accommodate themselves to the form of the market, and the aspects – or remnants, as Adorno might say –of the subject's resistance to this' (this issue, pg. 10). The contradiction between the capitalist subject and the maternal subject is a lived contradiction, negotiated on a daily basis by individuals involved in all aspects of maternal care.
In "For ever and ever": Child-raising, domestic workers and emotional labour in twentieth century Britain Lucy Delap gives us a poignant and nuanced reading of relations between servants, 'mistresses' and children in late 19th century suburban households, as all involved navigate the emotionally charged terrain of shared parenting in conditions of gross inequality. What emerges are the ways relations are configured around particular issues such as the double-binds that servants have to deal with in terms of boundary setting and authority. Servants were expected to discipline children whilst being subject to intense disciplinary procedures themselves. Their employment was precarious and subject to the whim of a mistress who may have felt challenged by the emotional ties developing between servants and children in their charge. Delap traces the way humour and laughter play across this fraught terrain, at times providing a point of connection across social and economic divides, and at times being used by both children and 'mistresses' to shame servants and control them. Shot through with ambivalence, the relationships emerge as loving, intimate, rejecting and controlling in equal measure. Far from 'submissive creatures', the historical archive she draws on problematises easy readings of how power was taken up by servants in relation to both mistresses and children, and further underscores the complexity of 19th century mothering arrangements.
Daniel Miller continues his fascination with the role of 'things' in expressing, framing and socializing relationships, in his paper Getting THINGS Right: Mothers and Material Culture. Drawing on data from three different studies - one on Au Pairs carried out with Zuzana Búriková, a second on shopping, carried out with Alison Clarke, and a third on media and the Philippines carried out with Mirca Madianou – Miller draws our attention not just to the ways that 'things' might mediate relations (especially new technologies and their role in facilitating distant mothering) but more fundamentally how the category of 'mother' is itself a kind of object. Things, Miller maintains 'are most often used to help us deal with the discrepancies between that idealised object we refer to using the term mother, and the person who happens to correspond to that position in our lives'. He contends, in other words, that subjects are transformed into categories such as 'mother' through their interaction with 'things' which then go on to inform subsequent contradictions, nuances and subtleties in their relationship to their children.
Rosie Cox looks at the troubled ethics and politics of 'competitive mothering' as it is 'delegated' to nannies, au pairs and other paid childcare workers by middle-class advantaged women in affluent societies, at the costs of those childcare worker's own 'mothering projects'. Drawing on Cameron Lynne Macdonald's work on 'Shadow Mothers' (2011) Cox argues that practices of competitive mothering involve middle-class women using their position to raise their children in ways that are specifically designed to ensure their children's future social status and income. These practices underpin the demand for paid, privatized care in the home, and entail undermining the mothering projects of the women they employ. She traces the prevalence of competitive mothering to an emotional conflict that working mothers feel about their roles as both mothers and workers, and their desire to address these conflicts by showing that their children do not suffer because of their employment. Hence both employer and employee are caught in this affective cycle of guilt, anxiety, confusion and frustration, emotions that are produced by social forces rather than individual desires or interests. Given that women carry the weight of gender inequality in society as a whole, not just the organization of tasks within a single family, 'the domestic worker is employed to solve the impossible conundrum that working mothers face, whilst being herself a product of it and often experiencing frustrations and anxieties about the care of her own children. The result, unsurprisingly perhaps, is that relations between domestic workers and female employers can be fraught, complex and ambivalent'.
Rachel Thomson gives us an account, drawn from her influential study, The Making of Modern Motherhood and a recent co-authored book Making Modern Mothers (Policy Press, 2011) of the fraught relation between motherhood and work. As the authors of Making Modern Mothers readily acknowledge, the aims of the longitudinal study were deceptively simple, and yet they belie the complexity, richness and ambitions of the project: to ascertain what first time motherhood means to women; to establish the significance of intergenerational and generational narratives and identifications in relation to mothering; and to explore whether and how being a mother changes women's identities. The complexity in part lies in the very real challenges of studying processes of individual and social change. Hence these apparently simple aims turn into dense questions about identity, subjectivity and temporality, with motherhood positioned as a unique 'test case' for investigating processes of social and intergenerational movement and transmission, as well as providing a snapshot of the dilemmas of negotiating identity more generally in the contemporary moment. In the paper published here, Thomson's playful use of 'work' enables her to show how interviewees navigate mothering and the workplace, itself a product of what Angela McRobbie terms the 'post-feminist contract' in which women manage the shift into the labour force by trading the right to assert sexual difference for the right to be treated as genderless workers (McRobbie, 2007). This contract, however, comes under increasing strain in the event of motherhood as the real costs of being female - at both psychological and material levels - that have otherwise been masked, become apparent. Not only does the post-feminist contract make visible divisions between younger and older mothers, but it provides a point of rupture between women in the same life phase. Thomson's paper, then, elucidates the relation between social class, work and motherhood in the contemporary moment, and the varied ways they play out.
In the creative writing section we are delighted to publish an abstract from Kate Pullinger award-winning historical-fictional novel The Mistress of Nothing, winner of the prestigious Governor General's Award in 2009. The story operates at the border of fact and fiction, bringing to light the rather obscured perspective of Sally Naldrett, the maid of the Victorian author Lady Lucie Duff Gordon. Love, loyalty, jealousy and motherhood stand at the center of the two women's unequal relationship, thus revealing a nexus of complicated dynamics between maid and employer and opens up questions regarding the meaning of classed care-relationships. Although set in the 19th century, the story brings to the fore many of the ideas presented in this issue regarding current frictions that continue to characterize relations between female employers and domestic care workers. It depicts, in particular the tensions and ambivalences that arise, on both personal and cultural levels, in response to careworkers' attributed capacities to care for their loved ones.
In the Book Review section Maria Papadima reads Joan. B. Wolf's recently published book: Is Breast Best? Laura Seymour offers her view of two collections of poems that have been published this year: Ireland is Changing Mother (Bloodaxe, 2011) by Rita Ann Higgins and Fiere (Picador, 2011) by Jackie Kay.
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1. See the work of Virginia Held, Sandra Hoegland, Alison Jaggar, Eva Feder Kittay, Uma Narayan and Sandra Harding, Nel Noddings, Rosemary Tong, Joan Tronto, and Margaret Urban Walker, amongst others
2. See, for instance, the work of Brigit Anderson, Rosie Cox, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Arlie Hochschild, Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Rhacel Parreñas, and Mary Romero.