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From childless by choice to mother: Performative and subversive negotiations of face in relational communication about (never) having children

Julia Moore, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Mothers who once told others they never wanted to have children have embodied two seemingly contradictory childbearing identities because they vocally articulated themselves as permanently childless by choice but then became mothers due to change in choice or circumstance. Researchers have demonstrated that motherhood continues to be privileged above voluntary childlessness, yet few have analyzed what happens if/when women’s childbearing desires/statuses change. My primary purpose in the present study was to understand how these mothers negotiated childbearing face in relational communication across their lives, and to connect these negotiations of face to broader operations of power. I developed and employed Performative Face Theory, which extends Erving Goffman’s theory of face by placing it in conversation with Judith Butler’s theory of performativity. In this theorization, discourses cited or repeated in negotiations of face constitute and sometimes subvert naturalized identity categories and relations of power. ^ Situated within the critical poststructural paradigm, I employed the method of discourse tracing to interrogate power in the transformation of discourse over time. I analyzed in-depth interviews with 32 mothers who once told others they never wanted to have children about their conversations concerning childbearing choice/status. I examined four facets of these women’s lived experiences by (a) developing three intersecting “transformational types” to describe how voluntarily childless women come to be mothers, (b) investigating how participants enacted silence and voice to negotiate the “sincerely childfree” face and the “good (future) mother” face, (c) exploring how participants’ parents’ pronatalist face threats or antinatalist face support constructed the never-mother/(future-)mother binary, and (d) examining how participants sometimes agentically transformed pronatalist face threats into neutral-natalist subversive facework. I offer theoretical and practical implications at the end of each results chapter, as well as a final overarching discussion chapter. I discuss how these mother’s negotiations of face were not only informed by relations of power, but also contributed to and sometimes resisted naturalized knowledges about womanhood and motherhood.^

Subject Area

Womens studies|Communication

Recommended Citation

Moore, Julia, "From childless by choice to mother: Performative and subversive negotiations of face in relational communication about (never) having children" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10096905.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI10096905

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