Date of Graduation

8-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Sociology (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Sociology and Criminal Justice

Advisor

Anna Zajicek

Committee Member

Lori Holyfield

Second Committee Member

Song Yang

Keywords

Social sciences; Breastfeeding; Discourse; Mothering

Abstract

In our contemporary sociopolitical rhetoric breastfeeding is something that is natural and something women ought to do because breast is best. The problem with this contemporary discourse of breastfeeding and motherhood is that the dominant medical, political, technological, and patriarchal discourses surrounding breastfeeding have merged to create an highly unattainable definition of what it means to be a "good mother" (Blum 1993). Moreover, upon a close examination, the most pressing political and Social debates of today surrounding the welfare reform, women's employment, reproductive technologies, and abortion, among many others, construct distinctions between "good mothers" and "bad mothers." However, there has been little to no research with regard to the meaning that women attach to their breastfeeding and mothering experiences.

The theoretical perspective guiding this study is critical discourse analysis. Importantly, I utilize a qualitative research design with nine in-depth interviews in order to elicit each participant's interpretation of their own experience and to better tease out the discursive strategies that mothers utilize and the dominant discourses they contend with (Charmaz 2010). During this process, four major themes emerged, to which I have labeled: 1) moral discourse, 2) technology and the failing body, 3) breaking the seal, and 4) shaming. This research reveals that there is a highly paradoxical world that mothers live in, sentimentalized and devalued at the same time (Blum 2002). More importantly, breastfeeding provides a cultural lens into the politics of the human body by giving a voice to the tension and the contradiction within maternal life.

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