Mothers who Make Things Public

Feminist Review 93 (1):8-26 (2009)
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Abstract

This paper is an attempt to elaborate two concerns: those of maternal ethics, and notions of making things public. I attempt to bring these two concerns together and think them alongside one another, in hopefully productive ways. I want, in other words, to think about the ethics of what mothers ‘make public’, whether this is understood in its most rudimentary form, of enabling a child to express something, to make public an affective state, for instance, even if it is only the mother who is there to witness or receive it, through to more overt and material forms of ‘publication’ glimpsed when mothers parent in spaces we call ‘public’. This paper focuses on what happens to us all when we encounter ‘mothering’ – not in the enclosed, private, secluded spaces where we imagine mothering to take place, but in what Marc Augé has termed the ‘non-places of supermodernity’, where much of the day-to-day material practices of mothering in Western late-modern urban contexts actually occurs. As is often the case, it is when experience is dislodged from the contexts in which we expect to find it that its contours are shown up in relief, and we are called on to re-configure our understandings of experiences in ways that also shift our understandings of the contexts in which they occur. In this sense, mothering, that I am claiming ‘makes things public’, as well as occurring frequently and importantly ‘in public’, not only shows up something we may overlook about the maternal, but also deforms and reforms our understandings of ‘the public’ itself.

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