Stepmothering and Identity: A Synthetic Narrative-Discursive Analysis

Roper, Sandra Lyn (2017). Stepmothering and Identity: A Synthetic Narrative-Discursive Analysis. PhD thesis The Open University.



In Britain in the twenty-first century stepfamilies are numerically common but difficult to define since they may cross household boundaries. This has meant that stepmother families, who are often non-residential, are rarely included in research and there is a very limited literature which considers the perspectives of stepmothers themselves. However, there have been research findings suggesting greater stress for stepmothers than stepfathers. In a neoliberal climate there are increasing demands on parents, including fathers who do not live with the biological mother of their children, and this may contribute to particular stresses for stepmother families. This research used a synthetic narrative-discursive methodological approach, underpinned by feminist theory, to explore the identity work undertaken by stepmothers. In order to maximise the diversity of participants, data were drawn from a web forum for stepmothers and interviews with stepmothers of adult stepchildren. The analysis considers the discursive resources drawn upon as stepmothers negotiate potentially troubled identities. The empirical work is presented in three chapters: the first considers stepmothers talk about their (male) partners in which the men were often constructed as hapless, helpless or hopeless. The second looks at talk of home both as a physical and a relational space. In this stepmothers frequently demonstrated their own feelings of both invasion and exclusion, often not feeling ‘at home’. The third explores stepmothers’ talk in which the biological mothers of their stepchildren are often constructed as mad, bad and sometimes dangerous. The concluding chapter summarises the particular troubles with which stepmothers must contend highlighting the discursive resources that are drawn on and the constraints that these impose. Theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions are discussed including suggestions for policy. There are also discussions of future possibilities for extensions to this research exploring the experiences of the growing number of families with adult stepchildren.

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