Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of London
Department Name: Inst of Modern Languages Research

Abstract

At a time of changing family demographics across Europe as a consequence of changing family patterns, new reproductive technologies, mass migration, hybridisation of identities, and increasing precariousness of employment, it is imperative to explore the potential of a cross-disciplinary dialogue for the production of a new discourse on motherhood. Feminist analyses have shown that motherhood is best treated as an interdisciplinary field, and autobiographical and fictional writing by women offer distinctive perspectives, but, although literature specialists draw on work from a range of disciplines, the reverse is rare. The Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network aims to change this situation by initiating, in a specifically European context, cross-cultural, transnational and interdisciplinary dialogue on motherhood, in which the study of literature is integrated. It will bring together researchers engaged in studying motherhood in individual contemporary European literatures with researchers and practitioners working on motherhood from philosophy, psychoanalysis, sociology, ethnography, politics and law as well as art and film studies. By means of a series of workshops, online resources and activities, readings, and a major conference and exhibition, the Network will explore how representations and narratives of motherhood in contemporary women-authored literatures engage with current socio-political, psychological and legal discourses. The Network will generate an edited book publication, as well as ongoing online resources and other forms of knowledge transfer dissemination, such as an anthology of literature, media activity, and social networking. The ultimate aims of the Network are: 1. to contribute the as-yet-absent insights drawn from literary studies to policy studies of motherhood in the EU; 2. to lead to a better understanding of the relationship between literature and society; 3. to develop a major pan-European cross-disciplinary funding application.

Planned Impact

The Network itself aims to explore and elucidate the social impact of studying literary treatments of motherhood and so, at this stage, the impact summary can only be partial. Potential non-academic beneficiaries of the Network are:

a. Policy-makers - organisations and institutions, e.g:
- Family Platform, consortium of 12 organisations (inc. social scientists, policy-makers, social organisations) working on family life and policy across Europe, and providing input into the EU's socio-economic and humanities research agenda on Family Research and Family Policies;
- Eurofund, an EU foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions in relation to specific areas of EU policy;
- Institute for Family Policy, which develops synergies between family organisations internationally to increase awareness of policy and decision makers on family issues;
- European Economic and Social Committee, an integral part of the EU's decision-making process;
- Members of the European Parliament, including Baroness Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP for London, spokeswoman for European justice and human rights, and active on anti-racism, sexuality, and diversity, including recognising diversity in families.

b. Charities, e.g.:
- The Family and Parenting Institute, a charity that aims to influence family policy and to make society more family friendly;
- Family Action, which supports disadvantaged and socially isolated families;
- National Childbirth Trust, which supports people through life-changing experiences of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood;
- Parenting UK, which supports professional practitioners working with parents and informs policy makers.

c. Practitioners, e.g.:
- those working with mothers and families: social workers, psychologists, psychoanalysts, health workers, activists, etc;
- school and college teachers;
- community groups, e.g. Mumsnet online community and campaigning group;
- cultural practitioners: authors, artists, filmmakers, photographers, etc.
- reading groups;
- creative writing groups.

d. General public

Literature is much more than a partial reflection of reality. It can open up new ways of thinking. Literary narratives and representations of motherhood - whether autobiographical or fictional (or varying degrees in between) - offer access to inner fears and fantasies, those of mothers themselves or those concerning them. Literary techniques offer ways of expressing intimate feelings and experiences, which may otherwise be inexpressible. For example, metaphor and fantasy may convey in a new way what it feels like to be pregnant, to give birth, or (as Trauma Studies have shown) to lose a child, or even to kill one. Literature can stimulate thinking; it may challenge or subvert normative discourse. It reflects upon issues of the day and it can provoke new ways of thinking about everyday problems. The kinds of insight gained from the study of literary representations and narratives of motherhood have the potential to inform understandings of motherhood and maternal subjectivity. It is anticipated that the work will be of interest to family and cultural practitioners, as well as to the general public.
The social impact and knowledge transfer agenda of the Network will be facilitated through non-academic forms of dissemination (as described in detail in the Pathways to Impact attachment), including an exhibition, a virtual reading group, an anthology of literature, media interviews, social network groups and blogs. Ultimately, the aim is to constitute and establish the Network, to develop its sphere of influence, and to refine its methodologies in order to apply for funding for a broader-based and more ambitious pan-European project, designed to impact on social policy and to improve ways in which societies think about motherhood and governments legislate for - rather than ag

Publications

10 25 50
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Adalgisa Giorgio (2016) Motherhood and Work in Italy: A Socio-Cultural Perspective in Journal of Romance Studies

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Carmen Covito (2016) Tempo parziale (short story) in Journal of Romance Studies

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Carmen Covito (2016) Part Time (translation) in Journal of Romance Studies

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Challinor E (2015) In dialogue with self and the world: Cape Verdean migrant pregnancy in Portugal in Women's Studies International Forum

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Cheruvallil-Contractor S (2016) Motherhood, Religions and Spirituality in Religion and Gender

 
Title A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich 
Description A film on motherhood and disability reflecting non-linear neuro-atypical brains' organisation of information 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Audience engaged with issues around motherhood and disability 
URL http://www.shelleyrae.net/videos/a_hero.html
 
Title Moving Mothers 
Description (i) Video of interviews with women who are academics and mothers and who have moved to the UK - and other countries - because of their husband's or partner's work. (ii) Performance about being a mother who has to move countries for the above reasons 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Audience engaged with the impact on mothers who have to move countries because of their partner's work 
URL http://followthefellow.wordpress.com/
 
Title No-Ma 
Description Interactive photographic and text-based installation relating to women who, for various reasons, do not have children. The audience engages with the women's narrative by means of selection. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Audience engaged with issue of non-motherhood 
URL http://www.lauracuch.com/
 
Title The Egg, the Womb, the Head and the Moon 
Description An online, interactive, interdisciplinary arts project containing art and texts relating to the maternal. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Audience engaged with various aspects of motherhood 
URL http://www.eggwombheadmoon.com/
 
Description For clarity, the Key Findings of the Network are divided into two headings: (I) Methodology and Process; and (ii) Content.



(i) Methodology and Process



a. The substantial membership of the Network mailing list, built up over a relatively short period, indicates the importance and interest that the topic has in a pan-European context, at a time when Europe is being reconfigured by migration, economic changes, the effects of new reproductive and communication technologies and in relation to family patterns and policies.



b. The events, activities and on-line resources of the Network produced a stimulating space and atmosphere which facilitated international individual and institutional links between researchers and between researchers and cultural practitioners, and which are generating further collaborative plans and projects.



c. While the methodology and event format developed for the Network was not especially innovative in itself, the mix of disciplines and cultures at every stage enabled productive dialogue to emerge. Insights were produced into the wide variety of different contexts within which motherhood is experienced within and across Europe; into a wide range of experiences, realities and complexities, enabling new reflections and thinking to be taken forward into individual and collaborative research projects; and into the challenge of confronting discipline-specific methodologies - especially in the tension between dealing with groups and dealing with individual experience or in the role of the personal in, for example, sociological research - and also demonstrated that it is possible to explore motherhood simultaneously as a broad social phenomenon and as a subjective experience.



d. On-line resources and open access pod-casts enable those who did not attend workshops (or conference) to share in proceedings and discussion.



e. Network blog enables on-going interaction, discussion and sharing of relevant texts on motherhood.





(ii) Content



a. Network events and activities demonstrate that much still remains to be said about issues which impact on mothering and on women's experiences of motherhood, and that producing narratives of women's experiences of motherhood is an on-going and arguably endless process.



b. Conventional understandings of motherhood had to be broadened to include situations before birth, after death, non-motherhood and, to some extent, fatherhood. Issues around adoption, infertility, non-biological mothers (and different claims to biology), new reproductive technologies, disability, and loss and death contributed to a questioning of stereotypes of who or what a mother is.



c. Many different discourses have an impact on how motherhood is lived in everyday life - for example, political, legal, institutional, ideological, scientific, health, economic, managerial and popular media discourses - and the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural forum of the Network highlighted ways in which such discourses are in tension with each other and how they are manipulated and controlled, raising the importance of resisting them.



d. Interdisciplinary dialogue was found to ground, nuance and contextualise dominant legal and 'scientific' accounts of women, mothering and reproductivity.



e. Emergent themes and issues included:

- continued gender and ideological bias in relation to employment trends of and discourse about working mothers at a European level, especially in relation to the politics and policies of austerity;

- the radical difference within Europe of mothering and parenting practices and discourses;

- migration, which is an increasing force in Europe, reinforces and exacerbates many problematic issues which mothers face, such as, for example, guilt, yet it can also empower them;

- maternal ambivalence and violence are particularly complex and troubling issues, which literary narratives can open up, nuance and help to shape social and legal responses to;

- emerging family patterns, such as same-sex parenting and the kinds of motherhood that are coming into being through reproductive technologies, challenge cultural norms of motherhood, and literature can take on a lobbying role in this respect and help re-shape attitudes and norms;

- religion is often felt as a tension in motherhood - as both support and hindrance - and literature offers an imagined space in which such tensions may be creatively explored and shared.



f. By raising the profile of literature in interdisciplinary dialogue, the impact of literature was found to be multiple, including:

- contributing fully to critical interpretation of the social, emotional and personal contexts of motherhood;

- presenting a direct challenge to the supposed objectivity and impersonality which can dominate work in the social sciences;

- providing insights and soliciting and shaping emotional reaction to difficult issues, which, for example, legal and medical reports on similar subject matter do not provide;

- confronting readers with uncomfortable, distressing and complex issues and experiences, and opening up nuanced situations that work against judgement and categorisation, thus forcing reappraisal of normative judgements and thinking;

- creating different ways of seeing and of making meaning;

- subverting and resisting normative discourse;

- creating narratives of new mothering practices and experiences, mediating social norms and raising questions for discussion;

- realising the interaction between literature and thought;

- inscribing personal experiences of motherhood (including through fiction) in order to find a voice and language for expressing extraordinary experiences and feelings;

- exploring ways to say what cannot normally be articulated or is particularly difficult to articulate and to hear, such as anxieties, trauma, exclusion, psychic structures;

- through translation, widening the scope of literature's cultural impacts.
Exploitation Route In developing methodologies for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural discussion of motherhood, the Network has raised the profile of literature - and the study of literature - in a pan-European context. It has illustrated how narratives and representations of motherhood and mothering in literary texts (both autobiographical and fictional) not only reflect reality but also reflect on it. It has shown how such narratives creatively and imaginatively explore, express and shape experience and emotions, offering insights into the complexity of mothers' intimate experiences and sense of self. Literature can create a spectrum of expression - by means of literary motifs, images, metaphors, and other literary strategies - for experiences and feelings that may otherwise be difficult to articulate. As such, it may be used by practitioners dealing with mothers and families - such as social workers, therapists, teachers, politicians, lawyers and social policy makers - as a supplement to women's voices in the real world, as a way of understanding and opening up mothers' experiences. Literary narratives and representations may also aid individual women to articulate and understand their own experience of mothering, or to feel they are not alone with certain difficulties and dilemmas.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare

URL http://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/research-fellowships/ahrc-post-1968-motherhood-european-literature-network
 
Description A number of publications have been contracted, with more in preparation.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Cassal Trust Author Reading
Amount £1,200 (GBP)
Organisation University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 11/2013
 
Description Coffin Trust Author Reading
Amount £1,200 (GBP)
Organisation University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2013 
End 02/2013
 
Title Representing Motherhood: Book Cover Artwork 
Description Rolling powerpoint presentation of cover artwork of books on motherhood from a variety of cultures and disciplines, exploring and prompting questions about the way mothers are represented 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The presentation is available on open access on-line 
URL http://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/AHRC%20Motherhood%20Network/Motherhood%20...
 
Description CHILD (Center for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic Economics) 
Organisation Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic Economics (CHILD)
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Shared active members
Collaborator Contribution Member of CHILD participated in Network workshop and is scheduled to contribute to a publication drawn from it
Impact Interdisciplinary - sociology, demography, literature studies
Start Year 2012
 
Description Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women's Writing (CCWW) 
Organisation Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR)
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network is based at CCWW and shares some members of its steering committee who are all active participants in the work of the network and producing its outputs and impact
Collaborator Contribution committee membership, event organisation and participation, presentation of papers, editorial work
Impact Publication Events Literature based
Start Year 2011
 
Description Contemporary Women's Writing Association 
Organisation Contemporary Women's Writing Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution CWWA shares several members and participants with Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network
Collaborator Contribution Professor Clare Hanson, from CWWA, served as a member of the Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network steering committee
Impact Literature studies based
Start Year 2012
 
Description La Mamma Italiana: Interrogating a National Stereotype 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Department La Mamma Italiana
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Shares members and active participants who have contributed to impacts and outputs
Collaborator Contribution Presentations on common aims, and introductions to members
Impact Literature studies based
Start Year 2011
 
Description MaMSIE 
Organisation Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethic (MaMSIE)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Shared members and active participants
Collaborator Contribution Steering committee member, paper presentations, chairing, editorial
Impact Events Publications
Start Year 2012
 
Description Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network Steering Committee 
Organisation European Literature Network
Country European Union (EU) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Steering Committee which managed the Network, with particular responsibilities for its strategic planning, scheduling events and activities; monitoring the fulfilment of Network aims, objectives and outcomes; monitoring the intellectual outcomes of events and activities; monitoring the budget; monitoring publicity drives and media and non-academic liaison; monitoring evaluation and feedback procedures and responses; forward planning for continuation of Network after the conclusion of the funding period; editing publication outcomes.
Collaborator Contribution Steering Committee which managed the Network, with particular responsibilities for its strategic planning, scheduling events and activities; monitoring the fulfilment of Network aims, objectives and outcomes; monitoring the intellectual outcomes of events and activities; monitoring the budget; monitoring publicity drives and media and non-academic liaison; monitoring evaluation and feedback procedures and responses; forward planning for continuation of Network after the conclusion of the funding period; editing publication outcomes.
Impact Events Most members of the steering committee were literature studies based, but three came from Politics, Psycho-Social Studies and Philosophy.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Cassal Trust Author Reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact An author reading event

An author reading event, held at Senate House, University of London on 24 October 2013, as part of the Motherhood in post-1968 European Women's Writing: Cross-Cultural and Interdisicplinary Dialogues conference.

Authors:

Eliette Abecassis (France); Hel
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/AHRC%20Motherhood%20Network/Author%20Rea...
 
Description Changing Models of Motherhood: A Reading by Eleonora Mazzoni and Karine Reysset 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact An author reading event on 18 January 2013, followed by questions and discussion

The event comprised readings by two authors - Karine Reysset (France) and Eleonora Mazzoni (Italy). The authors read in their own languages and English translations of the passages were also read.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/node/220
 
Description Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Blog, including reports of events, reviews of books and films about motherhood, discussion pieces, and comments

Ongoing blog which aims to continue discussions and debates of the Network
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014
URL http://motherhoodresearchnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/
 
Description Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network mailing list 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Mailing list hosted by JISC

Ongoing mailing list for disseminating information on the Network - MOTHERHOODRESEARCHNETWORK@JISCMAIL.AC.UK
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Moving Mothers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Performance on the topic of mothers who have to move countries because of their husband's/partner's work, consisting of video interviews and a live performance

Some of the audience of the performance subsequently participated in the performers' project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Pod-casts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Pod-casts of talks at workshops, conference and author reading events

Increased requests for information and participation following viewing of pod-casts
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
URL http://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/research-fellowships/ahrc-motherhood-post-1968-european-literature-...
 
Description Press releases 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Information about Network aims, conference, exhibits and author reading

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The Network held five one-day thematic workshops, with invited international participants

The workshops were held at Senate House, University of London:

Friday 11 May 2012: Motherhood: Theories, Methods, Narratives

Friday 26 October 2012: Mothering and Work: Employment Trends and Rights

Friday 18 January 2013: Changing Models of Motherhood

Friday 26 April 2013: Motherhood, Migration and Exile

Friday 28 June 2013: Motherhood, Religions and Spirituality
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
URL http://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/research-fellowships/ahrc-motherhood-post-1968-european-literature-...
 
Description website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Website, giving information about the Network's events and activities, including links to pod-casts, digital exhibits and the network's blog

Some scholars participated in Network events after visiting the website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014
URL http://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/research-fellowships/ahrc-post-1968-motherhood-european-literature-...