Doctor of Philosophy
Teacher's College, Columbia University
Involuntary childlessness is a complex and identity-shaping experience moulded by parameters of a pronatalist society. For the women who participated in this study, isolation, silence, and shame were experienced as a consequence of their childlessness. Motivated by the idea that singing, particularly in group contexts, might aid in unburdening women whose identities have been stigmatized by their childless circumstances, this ethnographic study examined whether, and in what ways, women experienced community and developed self-empowerment through participation in the Childless Voices Choir.
Framed by theories of community (Delanty, 2018) and empowerment (Adams, 2008; McLaughlin, 2016), this research explored how meaningful engagement with group singing and collaborative song writing afforded the opportunity for eleven involuntarily childless women to use their voices collectively to mitigate the isolating and silencing impact of a stigmatized identity (Goffman, 1963) through the recognition, critique, and resistance of pronatalist discourses. Within the ethnographic framework of this study, a participatory action research (PAR) project was also employed, wherein seven of the study participants—and myself as researcher-participant—collaborated on the writing and recording of a song titled, “Calm After the Storm.” This project facilitated an opportunity for profound and meaningful expression.
Emergent through analysis of the data were the umbrella themes of identity transformation and self-empowerment. These themes emerged through the experience of communitas (Turner (1969) and a sense of affective solidarity (Hemmings, 2012), as experienced through collective singing and collaborative song writing. The women who participated in this study experienced feelings of connectedness and belonging in new friendships that led to a sense of community among and between the participants. The development of communal bonds, in conjunction with their shared musical experiences, instigated a growth in musical and personal self-confidence and the development of self-empowerment.
Additionally, the research revealed the impact of the song writing and recording project on the group’s sense of affective solidarity. For many of the women who participated in the PAR project, a sense of accomplishment aided in building self-confidence and developing self-empowerment, thus impacting their ability to speak about their childless experience both within and outside of the CNBC community. This research is significant to music education and community music practitioners, as it fills a gap in relation to musical engagements involving involuntarily childless women.
Summary for Lay Audience
The purpose of this study was to explore whether, and in what ways, women who are involuntarily childless (also commonly known as being childless not by choice) experienced a sense of community and developed self-empowerment through singing in the Childless Voices Choir. The eleven women who participated in this study experienced isolation, silence, and shame as a consequence of their childlessness. My research explored the ways in which these experiences were mitigated through the social and musical engagements that took place during the weekly online singing sessions.
In this ethnographic study I explored, as both a participant and a researcher, the musical and social experiences of the Childless Voices facilitator and ten singers. Additionally, I incorporated a song writing and recording participatory action research project into my fieldwork. The outcome of this project was the composition and recording of a song titled, “Calm After the Storm.” This song is a reflection of the women’s experiences with, and perceptions of, involuntary childlessness.
I analyzed data from singing session observations and interviews through the lens of community and empowerment theories. My findings showed that, through social and musical interactions, the Childless Voices facilitator and singers built communal bonds that led to a sense of solidarity. Additionally, through social and musical engagements during the singing sessions and the song writing and recording project, participants developed their literal (physical) and figurative voices, which aided in the development of self-empowerment.
Curtis, Laura, "Singing Our Stories: Building Community and Developing Self-Empowerment in the Childless Voices Choir" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9717.
Revision on page 11: changed the word 'cervical' to 'ovarian'.