Women, Mothers and Citizens: Lone Mothers' Narratives in the Context of New Zealand Welfare Reform
As in other late modern societies with a history of liberal welfarism, 'lone mothers' in New Zealand occupy contested subject positions. On the one hand, lone parenting is understood as the outcome of broader changes in family life and gender relations, and in particular, the emergence of new forms of intimacy as people seek relationships to sustain individual identity projects. On the other hand, in the context of neo-liberal welfare discourses, lone mothers are constructed as a problematic Other, categorically different to 'ordinary' women, mothers and citizens. In New Zealand, welfare reform discourses have constructed women who parent alone as 'particular types of people', and subjected lone mothers to welfare reforms that have had real material effects in their everyday lives. The construction of lone mothers as Other is not only a product of neo-liberal welfare reform discourses. Rather, the ways in which women who parent alone are 'made up' as particular types of people is historically specific. This thesis situates current discourses around lone mothering in New Zealand in the context of a hierarchy of maternal legitimacy that has produced historically specific subjects through a number of traditional, modern and late modern subjectification discourses. Discourses have effects, both materially and in terms of the subjectivity and experience of the people 'made up'. This thesis offers an analysis of the narratives of twenty-one lone mothers in the context of New Zealand welfare reform. In particular, the ways in which women who parent alone make sense of becoming lone mothers, of being 'different' in negotiating the social identity of mother, and of the materiality of the experience of parenting alone are examined. The thesis argues that when narrating experience, women who parent alone enact particular narratives in the form of validation stories. Validation stories are drawn from an amalgam of discourses that both construct lone mothers as particular types of people and shape the material conditions of lone mothers' lives. In enacting validation stories, women who parent alone negotiate these discourses, producing narratives to make sense of their experience and position themselves as ordinary women, mothers and citizens. In this sense, validation stories are narratives that ameliorate the oppressive effects of welfare reform discourses that relentlessly shape lone mothers' lives. The thesis concludes that although validation stories make the lives of lone mothers more 'liveable', sociological theorising around changes in family life must critique claims of individualization as a benign tendency of late modernity, and attend empirically to the ways in which persistent gendered inequalities in family life are both discursively legitimated and reproduced, and continue, for example, to discriminate against lone mothers.