From motherhood to maternal subjectivity

Hollway, Wendy (2001). From motherhood to maternal subjectivity. International Journal of Critical Psychology, 2 pp. 13–38.



In this paper I try to work out what would be involved - and what would be some of the implications - in moving from the idea of motherhood to maternal subjectivity (which I theorise through the lens of unconscious intersubjectivity). Motherhood connotes a natural state or condition which functions as an empty category into which children’s needs can be placed. Using feminist and post-structuralist critiques and building upon British and feminist psychoanalysis, I theorise developments in subjectivity and the capacity to care that are made possible by certain characteristics of the relationship with a developing child, characteristics which change over time. More specifically I explore the concepts of maternal ambivalence, containment, recognition and maternal development - all ways of understanding the specific workings and effects of unconscious intersubjective dynamics - in the context of asking how maternal subjectivity is constituted. In this way, the subject of inquiry is shifted from mothers to mothering.
This conceptualisation of maternal subjectivity aims to go beyond subjectivity as subjectification and mothers as the objects of children’s needs (or, more recently, rights) and also beyond the idea of mothers as ‘autonomous’ subjects in their own right (to the extent that the idea of autonomy is one deriving from the rational unitary subject of modernism). Throughout I use the politically relevant theme of who can and should mother to inquire into the boundaries of maternal subjectivity and thus as a lens through which to illuminate the relations among mothering, fathering, parenting, primary caring and caring in general. I discuss the effects of these dynamics on adult subjectivities in general.

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