Disciplining mommy : rhetorics of reproduction in contemporary maternity culture
Mack, Ashley N.
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In this dissertation, I argue that the maternal body is a chief site of discursive political and cultural struggle over gender, family, and work in a neoliberal America. I consider contemporary discourses of maternity, an aggregate I call maternity culture, as cultural products and rhetorical expressions of the antagonistic arrangements in contemporary capitalism since the neoliberal turn. The complexities of maternity culture discourses can therefore be better understood when they are historicized alongside changing economic and political realities. Using materialist feminism as my primary methodology, I contend that maternity culture discourses express the ethics of neoliberalism including the privatization of social/political responsibility and self-actualization through entrepreneurialism and labor, while simultaneously justifying the intensification of maternal labor and the continued surveillance of women's bodies. I argue that maternity culture discourses are, therefore, rhetorics of reproduction and reproducing rhetorics. That is to say, they are a part of a larger set of discourses about the reproductive function that are themselves caught in the logics of capital that may result in the reproduction of unequal arrangements in material and symbolic life. In order to illuminate how maternity culture operates in neoliberal public life as a reproducing rhetoric, I provide a historical analysis of rhetorics of women's health, and analyze two case studies involving discourses surrounding breastfeeding and natural childbirth, major sites of struggle within maternity culture.