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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Negotiating discourses of gendered parenthood in Mumsnet Talk. Jai Mackenzie. To appear in Gender and Language, Negotiating discourses of gendered parenthood in Mumsnet Talk Jai Mackenzie j. I also show that contributors use a range of linguistic and digital resources to challenge such discourses, and that at times their resistance is facilitated by the affordances of the forum itself.
The potential to connect with a large community of Mumsnet users, for example, is identified as a powerful resource at their disposal. Overall, I find that Mumsnet Talk is a fruitful site for the negotiation, resistance and subversion of cultural norms, but that it remains difficult here, as elsewhere, for women to escape dominant discourses that work to position them in restrictive gendered subjectivities.
Key words Mumsnet; motherhood; discourses; subjectivity; online community. Introduction This article presents findings from the analysis of a single thread posted to the online discussion forum Mumsnet Talk in June It aims to consider how Mumsnet users explore their place in the world through conversations that take place within this forum, and whether communicating in this context makes any contribution to the options they are able to navigate.
Mumsnet logo, from www. The research presented in this article is conducted from a feminist poststructuralist perspective Baxter, ; Weedon, Feminist poststructuralism is part of a broader poststructuralist movement that is diverse in nature, but is unified by a concern with language as a social phenomenon, that is ever-changing according to purpose and context Weedon, Whilst meaning is shifting and unstable, however, there are also powerful forces — discourses — that work to fix meaning; to construct the social world in specific ways Foucault, , In sum, this article aims to explore how a group of Mumsnet users negotiate gendered discourses and subjectivities, considering whether and how they are defined in gendered terms, and whether and how new possibilities for self-definition can be envisaged through their digital interactions.
It also aims to address issues that previous discursive studies of parenting and motherhood in a range of contexts have tended not to emphasise, which are, first, close attention to the role language plays in discursive struggles, and second, explication of the means by which discourses are identified. I pay particular attention to the linguistic and digital resources that are available to Mumsnet users as they work to negotiate discourses through their digital interactions.
Discourses and Feminist Poststructuralism The concept of discourses, which is central to poststructuralist theory, revolves around a central nexus of knowledge, power and subjectivity Angermuller, Maingueneau and Wodak, Discourses are therefore difficult to escape and leave individuals by no means free to be, think or act without limit. However, I do not claim here that discourses can be identified as universally dominant, marginalised or excluded: Feminist poststructuralism brings the central concerns of poststructuralist theory to bear in the interrogation of issues surrounding gender, sexuality and identity.
There has been some disagreement, however, as to whether poststructuralist theory can serve feminist interests. Feminist scholars such as Gill have argued that the two are incompatible because the stable, unified identities, generalisations and global concerns from which poststructuralism withdraws are central to feminism and other political activism. Baxter , however, has responded to such criticisms by pointing out that poststructuralism questions the very categories and unified identities that modernist feminists have found so useful for exploring and critiquing differences and inequalities between men and women.
Poststructuralism therefore cannot support feminism as a cause that universalises and seeks to emancipate all women, but it can offer a means by which the fluid, unstable and contested meanings surrounding power, gender and identity can be explored Baxter, In the study presented here, a feminist poststructuralist perspective supports close attention to the ways in which diverse and multiple meanings surrounding gender and identity are constituted through digital interactions in a local context, with an eye to wider social forces.
The explicitly political aims of feminist poststructuralism drive my quest to deconstruct the gendered discourses that work to position women in restricted subjectivities and to consider what linguistic resources they can draw on in order to resist and disrupt these discursive forces. The concept of subjectivity supports a feminist poststructuralist exploration of the intimate relation between discourses and the everyday interactions of a group of women.
It is through discourses that preferred forms of gendered subjectivity are offered, and thus power is inscribed, through the constitution of the bodies, minds and experiences of individual subjects Weedon, They suggest that individuals draw on a range of resources in order to discursively position themselves and others; attention to these resources is at the heart of the close, qualitative analysis of selected Mumsnet threads that is presented here. Parenthood, Gender and Language in Digital Interaction There is a wealth of literature on the theme of parenthood, particularly within sociological contexts.
Many such studies of both motherhood and fatherhood have been conducted from a poststructuralist perspective. For example, Gillies , Lawler , Miller and Wall emphasise the restrictions dominant discourses continue to place on the lives of both male and female parents and the difficulties they face in their attempts to challenge such discourses.
However, these studies do not usually attend to the role of language in discursive struggles, or to the complexities of discourse identification and analysis. Their problematisation of the process of discourse identification and their linguistic approach yields insights into the mechanisms through which gendered discourses operate. The methodological approach presented in this article takes particular influence from Sunderland ; , who argues that discourses should be evidenced in the text through close scrutiny of language see also Fairclough, ; van Leeuwen, As a result, I would argue that some of the discourses Sunderland This theme is consistent with the claims of internet researchers such as Benwell and Stokoe , Danet et al and Markham , who have suggested that online affordances such as the potential for anonymity can liberate internet users, to some extent, from social constraints.
Others, however, have questioned the liberating capacity of the internet. Worthington Several researchers have made similar observations in their explorations of language, gender and sexuality in digital interactions. Hall, Gough, Seymour-Smith and Hansen and Milani , for example, focus on the ways in which users of online forums foreground certain aspects of their identities over others.
Similarly, Milani These examples raise the much-debated question of whether there is any reason to believe that we are somehow more free from social constraints when we interact online. Data and Methodology The analysis presented in this article is taken from a larger study of the discursive construction of motherhood in Mumsnet Talk. The public nature of this forum means that it provides relatively open access to a space in which different perspectives and versions of motherhood may be expressed and explored in everyday interactions.
This site can therefore be seen as a barometer of wider expectations, norms and ideas surrounding parenting and motherhood. However, the Mumsnet site does not necessarily offer a wide range of perspectives on motherhood, nor does it seem to be representative of diverse groups of parents. This is because, firstly, it targets individuals who identify as female parents.
Secondly, Mumsnet is very much a British site; its headquarters are in London, it is written exclusively in English and deals with many themes that are particular to a British context. Finally, demographic data collected by both Pedersen and Smithson and the Mumsnet census see Pedersen and Smithson, suggest that Mumsnet users tend to share relatively homogeneous traits: The first stage of the Mumsnet study involves the construction of a small corpus of fifty threads posted to Mumsnet Talk between April and September , comprising a total of just under , words.
This corpus is constructed through concurrent observation, data collection and preliminary analysis, as consistent with a grounded theory approach Charmaz, ; Corbin and Strauss, ; Glaser and Strauss, The basic principle of inductive logic, where theory is developed directly from data Charmaz, , permeates the design of this study and has allowed me to realise the aim of exploring the ways of being that are available to Mumsnet users without closing down my specific research questions, methodological options and analytical interpretations too early on.
This article presents analysis and findings from the second stage of this study, where two threads taken from this larger data set are analysed in detail. These threads are selected through a purposive sampling process, where key terms from the research questions guide the choice of threads for further exploration. The analytical process begins with the coding and categorisation of this thread, guided by the principles of grounded theory and supplemented with close scrutiny of language Sunderland, My coding and categorisation of the thread, and subsequent interrogation of the codes and their references, leads me not only to identify persistent themes and recurring linguistic features, but also relatively marginalised or absent themes.
Like Sunderland This identification and analysis of discourses is developed concurrently: This process of identifying and naming discourses is neither straightforward, nor objective. Discourses are difficult to pinpoint: Discourses are also not fixed; they are shifting and unstable, fluid and interpretive, meaning that the boundaries of a discourse will be almost impossible to delimit Reisigl and Wodak, How discourses are seen and named will therefore depend on my own perspective, and indeed, will reveal something about the position from which I stand, as well as the discourses I name see Reisigl and Wodak, ; Sunderland, Baxter lists five types of double-voicing, each of which serve slightly different functions.
The ethical issues involved in the Mumsnet study have been a central concern throughout the research process, and are explored elsewhere in detail Mackenzie, forthcoming. My reflexive-linguistic approach to internet research ethics has involved continuous examination and evaluation of my methods and position as a researcher, including my relationship with participants, in line with a grounded, emergent research design.
Using this approach, I have strived to identify some of the norms of interaction and information sharing within the Mumsnet Talk forum, and in turn to anticipate and mitigate potential causes of harm. As a result, I made the decision to contact every Mumsnet user whose words I wished to quote or analyse in detail and asked for their informed consent, even though their contributions were readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
I also offered to anonymise their usernames, an option several participants have been keen to take up. Their posts and usernames, as well as any references made by other participants, were removed at an early stage. This self-selection process has potential implications for my analysis of interaction, because it prevents me from analysing threads in full. However, I consider this to be a reasonable adjustment, since the majority of contributors do give their consent.
Both of the threads analysed in detail remain coherent overall and I have still been able to identify several interactional sequences worthy of close linguistic analysis. Analysis and Findings: I offer examples to show how I identify these discourses, highlighting the significance of recurring linguistic features such as categories, pronouns and evaluations, which often work to constitute forms of knowledge and subjectivity, as well as linguistic absences — namely, the absence of reference to men as parents or carers.
Variants of this statement are common throughout the thread; many participants open their posts with similar self-categorisations. So, too, does its persistence across the thread: An examination of evaluative forms in the thread points to the dominance of this discourse. Last night he responded with "but you're a good mum, and that's what's important. Not only are there no contributors who identify as male, but participants make very little reference to fathers, or indeed any male adults.
For some contributors, this may be the case, though the nature of these online interactions makes it difficult to speculate about the reasons for the widespread absence of men in this thread: It is only clear that there is a marked absenceii. Extract 1: Has your perception of who you are changed since you 4. How much of your identity is bound up with being a mum?
For some reason this has come out reading like an exam question - it's 8. Just curious about people's experiences. Most contributors to this thread accept the gender-specific agenda set by pandarific. Extract 2: Post 3 first person singular pronouns in bold cakesonatrain Sun Jun I think I am almost entirely Mum. My dci are still both under 3 so 2. I don't know if it will be less intense when 4. I am a bit 'old Me' at work, but I'm part time now so there's less of 7. Such persistent use of first person pronouns to describe relations that could include male carers points to a discourse of exclusion: In this section, I examine some of the linguistic and digital resources contributors deploy to resist and challenge these discourses, including dialogic double-voicing Baxter, , a range of interactive strategies and, again, categories, pronouns and evaluations.
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