Idealised and demonised : the construction of motherhood in the IVF policy debate in Australia

Smith, Jennifer Lynne (2005). Idealised and demonised : the construction of motherhood in the IVF policy debate in Australia PhD Thesis, School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences, University of Queensland.

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Author Smith, Jennifer Lynne
Thesis Title Idealised and demonised : the construction of motherhood in the IVF policy debate in Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2005
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Catherine McDonald
Joan Mulholland
Total pages 326
Language eng
Subjects L
160302 Fertility
Formatted abstract

Over the past five years an often emotive and controversial public debate has emerged in Australia over access to reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation and donor insemination. The debate was in part prompted by a policy announcement made by the Federal Government who aimed to effectively bar single and lesbian women from accessing these technologies on the basis of marital status. The resulting public debate has centred around questions concerning which ‘types’ of women should be allowed to access reproductive technologies and therefore reproduce. The debate was a highly salient one and the issues have been widely discussed amongst the public, within parliament and through the media, thereby creating a forum where ideas of just what constitutes ‘valid’ motherhood are publicly and privately contested.

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the discursive construction of categories of motherhood identity, using the public policy debate around access to reproductive technologies in Australia as a research site. I specifically investigate the designation of particular identities of motherhood as ‘good’ and therefore acceptable, and others as deviant and therefore undeserving of access to the full range of social services available. The research is situated within the field of critical social policy and utilises theories of governmentality, feminism, sexuality and motherhood.

The use of theories of governmentality, as developed by Michel Foucault [1979] and implemented by Mitchell Dean (1999), is primary within the research because they enable a consideration of the techniques and discourses through which the identity of the mother is governed and through which individual women act upon and construct their own identities. The analysis engendered by the use of governmentality is educated by an understanding of the socially constituted and inscribed body highlighted within feminist and postmodern approaches. The use of a critical social policy approach situates the research within an epistemological paradigm which offers an analysis that is able to conceptualise the operations of power and the marginalisation and manipulation of particular identities. Theories of sexuality and motherhood are utilised in order to critique these central aspects of women’s experiences which have been largely disregarded in much ‘traditional’ social policy analysis.

The methodology employed in this research is influenced by an understanding of the functioning of discourse as a device through which social processes and identities are questioned and transformed. I therefore utilise discourse analysis in order to investigate the construction of motherhood identities within the debate around access to reproductive technologies. The specific methodology that I use is critical discourse analysis as developed by Norman Fairclough (1992, 1995, 2003) and Ruth Wodak (2001). In order to investigate the construction of motherhood identities within the study site I conduct a critical discourse analysis of the media texts from two major newspapers which relate to the debate. I also analyse the parliamentary debate which considered the introduction of legislation aimed at allowing individual Australian State governments to restrict access to reproductive technologies. I compare and contrast this analysis with an examination of the mother identities expressed in the narratives of individual single and lesbian women who engage with the reproductive technologies discussed in the debate.

In essence this thesis identifies, in the public policy debate around reproductive technologies, a moment of problematisation where the practices of governing involved in the production of motherhood identities are made apparent. I use an analysis of this moment in order to identify and question the construction of motherhood which takes place within policy debates and how individual women construct their own identities as mothers both in relation to and separate from this. The newspaper and parliamentary texts are found to govern women’s behaviour through the identification and promulgation of narrow ‘good’ mother and ‘good’ citizen identities which constrain the range of mother identities deemed to be acceptable. The women’s narratives are found to reject the negative characterisation of their identities within popular discourses and construct a mothering persona for themselves which paradoxically also serves to highlight and enforce many of the characteristics of the idealised ‘good’ mother identity.

Keyword Fertilization in vitro, Human -- Government policy -- Australia
Motherhood -- Political aspects -- Australia

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 16:39:57 EST