Gendered constructions of the nation: race, sex and class in ‘white mothers’ accounts of belonging

PhD thesis

Peer, S. 2014. Gendered constructions of the nation: race, sex and class in ‘white mothers’ accounts of belonging. PhD thesis Middlesex University School of Health and Education
TypePhD thesis
TitleGendered constructions of the nation: race, sex and class in ‘white mothers’ accounts of belonging
AuthorsPeer, S.

This thesis offers a detailed exploration of what it means to be living as a white mother of a ’mixed race’ child in England during the period 1930-2010. Using primary data, I piece together a story about a nation and the women who are seen to move beyond its boundaries through sexually and racially transgressive acts. I select seven official documents for analysis from public archives spanning the 1930-1950s and position these as representative of an official response to boundary incursion. Using those materials, I demonstrate the reassertion of state authority, as rules and social practices including social distancing and marginalization to secure boundaries. I examine how particular tropes of gender, sexuality, class and ethnicity, provided a rich harvest for discursive constructions of white mothering as degraded whiteness and/or Englishness. I then re-examine ‘crossings’ as gendered dimensions of movement in relation to a collective with implications for becoming, belonging and non belonging. This allows me reframe meanings and experiences of white mothering as the impact of border interaction. The research design was influenced by feminisms, an overarching body of work that adopts a gendered gaze whilst rendering different social divisions and sources of power visible. Using that framework, I examine the presence and participation of white mothers as construction sites and agents of construction in the making and marking of national boundaries (Anthias & Yuval Davies 1992). I use this logic to reason that white mothers remain anchored within the collective through legitimate and authentic means. White mothers continue to symbolise and signify national boundaries, but there is disagreement as to what those boundaries constitute and where they should be located. Indeed, using the narratives of thirty white British women, I catalogue the complex web of tender ties that sustain belongings. In intimate spaces, borders have not necessarily been crossed and boundaries have not necessarily collapsed but are conjoined in ways that have not been explored. My contribution to research in this field is to demonstrate how white mothering embodies elements of change and continuity that stretch and pull the nation’s boundaries in unexplored ways. I examine these ideas as intersecting social dimensions to reveal new identity possibilities and secure belongings. Likewise, I claim a particular vantage point for white mothers where location and perspective are shaped by their ability to straddle both positions, as well as occupy construction sites where distance has collapsed.

Department nameSchool of Health and Education
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print07 Nov 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited07 Nov 2014
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
Accepted author manuscript
Accepted author manuscript
Accepted author manuscript
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