Negotiating Gender Identity, Motherhood and Consumption: Examining the Experiences of South Asian Women in the UK

Kerrane, Kathryn Ellen (2017). Negotiating Gender Identity, Motherhood and Consumption: Examining the Experiences of South Asian Women in the UK. PhD thesis The Open University.



This exploratory study aims to understand the role of consumption for South Asian mothers living in the UK as they incorporate motherhood into their gender identities. Consumer research on motherhood suggests mothers’ consumption practices are intertwined with the dominant norms of good mothering that pervade many cultures, known as intensive mothering. To fulfil the norms of intensive mothering, mothers are expected to consume appropriately and devote intense amounts of effort to ensuring their child’s development, both during the transition to motherhood and beyond. However much of this research focusses predominantly on white, middle-class mothers. Relatively little is known about the consumption practices of mothers at other intersecting positions in society, such as ethnic minority women. Yet recent sociological research suggests that increasing numbers of South Asian women are transforming gender norms surrounding education, work and marriage as they negotiate access to university. This thesis seeks to understand the complex ways in which South Asian women negotiate new gender identities on becoming mothers, and the role of consumption in this process.

In-depth interviews with 23 South Asian mothers living in the UK were used to gain insight into participants’ lived experiences of becoming a mother and their everyday mothering and consumption practices. The findings show that during the transition to motherhood, there were two ways in which participants’ accounts of consuming appropriately differed from that shown in existing consumer research. First, participants typically embraced certain South Asian cultural practices surrounding birth, which meant that participants often delayed purchasing baby products until after birth. Second, participants’ consumption of expert advice was more complex, due to the higher status of advice from female family members within family hierarchies. Beyond the transition to motherhood, mothering and consumption practices such as housework, parenting, feeding the family, and childcare consumption are key sites in which many participants negotiate the norms of intensive mothering as they pursue a more egalitarian division of these responsibilities on returning to work/study.

The thesis contributes to consumer research on gender identity by how participants are positioned to challenge gender norms through their consumption practices. Participants regard motherhood as an opportunity to reflect on how they socialise their children; they develop new ways of transmitting elements of their cultural and religious heritage to their children. Rather than simply coping with these additional responsibilities, participants often view motherhood as an opportunity to socialise their children with more egalitarian gender norms.

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