Isolated housewives and complex maternal worlds: The significance of social contacts between women with young children in industrial societies

Bell, Linda and Ribbens, Jane (1994). Isolated housewives and complex maternal worlds: The significance of social contacts between women with young children in industrial societies. Sociological Review, 42(2) pp. 227–262.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.1994.tb00089.x

Abstract

This article reconsiders the picture of the mother of young children in industrialised societies as the ‘isolated housewife’, suggesting this notion is by no means straightforward. We suggest there is considerable evidence for the existence of mothers' social contacts and their significance both as ‘work’ and ‘friendship’ in industrial societies. A pre-occupation with the notion of the ‘isolation’ of ‘housewives’ has led social researchers to neglect sustained examination of the social relationships within which many/most mothers are involved on a day-to-day basis. Complexities of interpretation, for example what ‘isolation’ can actually mean, need to be drawn out from the existing literature. Evidence presented from two recent ethnographic studies shows patterned opportunities/constraints occurring in relation to mothers' social contacts within localised settings, whether through organised groups or other personal ties. The complex nature of individual women's social contacts is thus brought out. Some key questions are raised for the importance to sociology, anthropology and social policy of these apparently insignificant or invisible women's networks.

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