Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Women's Studies and Feminist Research

Supervisor

Erica Lawson

Abstract

This thesis examines black mothers’ engagements with attachment parenting (AP), an increasingly popular parenting philosophy. AP promotes the development of secure attachment between parent (mother) and child, through practices such as breastfeeding, babywearing and bed-sharing. Coined by William and Martha Sears in the 1980s, AP has garnered increasing attention in a neoliberal context, a political rationality that centers the economic and emphasizes self-responsibility, consumption and individualism as defining features of ‘good’ citizenship. In the context of neoliberal retractions in welfare state spending, AP emerges as a particularly apt parenting philosophy as it identifies childrearing as a solution to social ills. However, AP’s emphasis on the importance of childrearing also offers the opportunity to undermine neoliberal values of economic productivity. This thesis explores this tension from the perspective of black mothers. Using a black feminist theoretical framework and drawing data from interviews conducted with nineteen black mothers living in the UK and Canada, I examine the gendered, raced and classed dimensions of AP and the broader ideology of intensive mothering it represents. I identify three themes that capture black mothers’ engagements with AP: 1) expertise, 2) belonging, and 3) the division of parenting labour and find that black mothers negotiate these themes in an effort to claim ‘good’ motherhood. In their varying interactions with AP, black mothers conform to the norms and standards set by neoliberal rationality and upend them, articulating an oppositional or resistive model of good black motherhood that centers black children’s value.

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