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Maternal Identity, Care and Intersubjectivity

October 2008 - March 2011

The aim for this ESRC-funded work is to extend the implications of Prof Wendy Holloway’s recent empirical project on the identity transition involved in becoming a mother to wider theoretical, methodological, epistemological and applied questions raised by a psycho-social approach to identity research.

Research questions:

  • How do the individual and intersubjective elements of self change and coexist when women become mothers?
  • How does this affect their capacity to care and ethical subjectivity? How do these elements of identity manifest in preverbal babies?
  • How are they embodied, gendered and transmitted between generations?
  • How can the functions of fathers and other 'thirds' be understood in relation to self and gender development?
  • Do the interview and observation psycho-social methods used in the current empirical research produce different images of new mothers and if so how?
  • What are the wider implications of these images, for example in informing professional health practices? In what productive and problematic ways do researchers use their subjectivity in producing knowledge about new mothers?
  • How can this use of subjectivity be rendered insightful and 'objective' (that is; valid, reliable, disinterested)?
  • What methods can enhance the objective use of subjectivity? How can these contribute to research ethics?

Professor Holloway’s research programme is a comprehensive attempt - including data analysis, theory and methodology - to provide an understanding of maternal identity addressing questions concerning ethical subjectivity, unconscious intersubjective dynamics and the capacity to care in family relationships.

It brings together three substantive themes in social science research: identities, mothering and psycho-social approaches. The significance of understanding identities across disciplinary boundaries was recognised by ESRC investment in the Identities and Social Action programme (ISA). Interest in mothering, indicated by research, networks and popular take-up, has recently increased. Psycho-social approaches are gaining currency in recognition of the damaging effects of individual-social dualism. The impact extends widely because thin, objectifying and ethically hollow images of identity have regrettable effects beyond social science research, for example in the health and social care of new mothers.

Pricipal Investigator: Prof Wendy Holloway

Learn more about the research programme: Intimate Relationships, Psychosocial