Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

From here to maternity: Motherhood, culture, and identity

Marsha Venuti Marotta, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation considers the problem that maternal difference represents inequality and inferiority--either a stigma as mothers are forced to compete on abstractly "equal" terms with others (as if they were the same as others), or seen to represent a special condition in need of protection. It argues that maternal difference is the result of cultural representations of mothers as nurturing, selfless, and always available to whoever needs them. These images are crucial aspects of the process by which mothers constitute their selves and their lives and come to establish goals, aspirations, and relationships. Using the work of Michel Foucault and Luce Irigaray, the dissertation shows that these goals and aspirations may appear necessary, natural, and personal, but in fact are constructed by the symbolic meanings and values that create and regulate society and culture, and so are contestable. It is the symbolic meanings and values that create maternal difference as inequality and inferiority. The dissertation distinguishes three body concepts: the sexual, the pregnant, and the nonpregnant/maternal body with daily responsibilities for children. It focuses on the third body concept to show how "experts" shape the habits, behaviors, and attitudes of mothers by disciplining mothers and imposing cultural scripts on them that shape the material practices of mothers, the series of practices through which mothers are governed and come to govern themselves. When mothers try to match the prescriptive ideals of self-control, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice, they follow rules and regulations that make them socially adapted and useful. This changes the way they and others think about their bodies and their possibilities. Feminist, black, and lesbian mothers offer models of practices and attitudes that challenge the hegemonic norms of motherhood when they refuse many of the disciplinary practices of motherhood and establish such practices as cooperative and collective rather than privatized mothering, or egalitarian parenting. Future challenges involve reinventing the subject positions of mothers, in part by reconceiving notions of time and space to take into account the material variety of embodiment among mothers as well as new relationships between mothers and others.

Subject Area

Political science|Womens studies|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Marotta, Marsha Venuti, "From here to maternity: Motherhood, culture, and identity" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9823755.