Family Talk: Irish Women Across Generations Negotiate Single Motherhood

O'Rouke-Scott, Elizabeth Alice (2018). Family Talk: Irish Women Across Generations Negotiate Single Motherhood. PhD thesis The Open University.



Until relatively recently, single motherhood in Ireland, could result in stigmatisation, social exclusion and institutionalisation. This thesis examines the ways in which three generations of women in Irish families talked about single motherhood. Interviews were conducted with seven intergenerational families of women in family groups. Follow up interviews were carried out with each woman individually after the family interviews. At least one of the women in each family of three generations had, at some point in her life, been pregnant and unmarried under the age of 20 and had kept the child. The research was informed by social constructionism and critical discursive psychological methodologies. Despite protestations of change and openness to sexual freedoms in Irish society, the research identified discourses of progress and social change alongside discourses of chastity and sexual morality. Drawing on these discourses, single mothers and their families used complex strategies to construct respectability. Good mothering identities were taken up alongside neoliberal concerns and sexual stigmatisation was avoided by taking up positions of naiveté and sexual innocence. Moreover, family identities were constructed collaboratively in the narratives of the women. These narratives reinforced gender roles, constructed family support during pregnancy and following the birth of a child, but also attributed blame and applied sanctions to single mothers. Fathers of single mothers were argued to be disappointed by their daughters’ unsanctioned pregnancies, whilst fathers of children were argued as necessary, if sometimes unwilling, participants in the lives of children. The thesis contributes an understanding of how Irish women live and how they understand and are allowed to understand themselves as well as the ways in which family respectability is negotiated collaboratively. It also adds to our understanding of the ways in which family identities can be maintained and sustained in family interaction in the context of identity trouble.

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