Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption

Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption
ESRC seminar series 2008 – 2010
The intersections between motherhoods, markets and consumption have become more pronounced
in recent years as consumer culture has established itself as a normalised aspect of everyday life. As
such, markets participate in important ways in cultural discussions about domestic practices,
cultures and identities. As argued by Clarke (2004, 2007) and Cook (1995), practices of motherhood
are increasingly played out in and through a sedimented consumer consciousness and, for most,
though not all sections of the population, consumer citizenship (Chin 2001). These connections raise
important questions, which are inspiring scholars from a range of disciplinary areas (including
marketing, sociology, anthropology, human geography, media studies, education and design history)
in locality specific and cross-cultural research projects. The main objective of the seminar series is
therefore to elaborate cross-cultural insights and to develop interdisciplinary networks in an open
and explicit manner, designed to create links nationally and internationally with leading scholars,
early career researchers and scholars, and relevant user groups with an interest in the intersections
between motherhoods, markets and consumption.
The series is organised by scholars who all work in the field of consumer culture and who have a
particular research interest in aspects of motherhood and markets. They are: Professor Margaret
Hogg (University of Lancaster); Professor Linda Scott (University of Oxford); Dr Lorna Stevens
(University of Ulster); Dr Stephanie O’Donohoe (University of Edinburgh); Dr Lydia Martens (Keele
University); and Professor Pauline Maclaran (Royal Holloway).
Questions about the series should be directed to Dr Lydia Martens ( ).
The series will start in January 2009, with the first of six seminars to be hosted at Keele University
with a program of speakers addressing the challenges and opportunities posed by cross-cultural and
interdisciplinary research on Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption. Future seminars will focus on
how markets and consumption mediate the transition to motherhood; construe maternal
archetypes; stimulate contestation and inform intergenerational relations between mothers and
children. The final session will focus on feeding motherhoods. These seminars will be hosted at the
institutions of the scholars who have put the bid together.
There is a budget to support early career researchers without an income to participate in the series.
The series organisers are keen to communicate with those interested to facilitate their inclusion in
the seminars. The final seminar, to be hosted in September 2010, will offer a postgraduate
colloquium which will provide a forum for Postgraduate Researchers to discuss their work and gain
We are also keen to further links with relevant user groups. We are planning a user panel discussion
during the final seminar in 2010, and hope to see a representation on users at the different
A website to accompany the series is currently under construction.
Call for participants
The first seminar of the Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption seminar series will take place in
the Claus Moser Building, Keele University, on Friday 16 January 2009. We have brought together an
interesting programme of speakers in order to address the theme of the first seminar, which is to
think through the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural opportunities, challenges and findings of
researching Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption. This is an invitation for participants to attend
the first seminar in the series. Places will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis and the
seminar will be limited to 35 participants, with some places earmarked for early career researchers
and user communities.
There is a limited travel budget available for Postgraduate Researchers and those interested in
financial support are requested to contact Dr Lydia Martens ( ) with an
estimate of their travel costs. Expenditure made prior to agreement with the seminar organisers will
not be reimbursed.
If you are interested in participating in the first seminar, please complete the booking form at the
end of this document and forward as an email attachment, to Mrs Sue Humphries
( ).
Details of the program for the day, presenters and abstracts of their presentations may also be
found below, as are some suggestions for those wishing to stay overnight in the area.
Seminar One
Cross Cultural and Interdisciplinary Issues in Research on Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption
Claus Moser Building, Keele University, Friday 16 January 2009
Morning session:
9:30 – 10:15
Arrival, registration & coffee
10:15 – 10:30
Welcome to the seminar series by Dr Lydia Martens and Professor
Pauline Maclaran
10:30 - 11:30
Andrea Prothero - Reflections on a Cross-Cultural Study of Motherhood
and Consumption
11:30 – 12:30
Alison Clarke - Material Culture, Mothers and the Market
12:30 – 13:30
Afternoon session:
13:30 – 14:30
Mary Jane Kehily and Rachel Thomson - Situations in a common
culture: Interdisciplinary strategies for mapping modern motherhood
14:30 – 15:00
15:00 – 16:00
Peter Jackson - Promoting interdisciplinary research on families and
16:00 – 16:30
Reflections on the day, the next seminar, finish and departure
Presenter details and paper abstracts
Title: Material Culture, Mothers and the Market
Presenter: Alison J. Clarke (Professor in Design History at the University of Applied Arts Vienna,
Women’s experiences and practices as mothers are inescapably bound to specific worlds of objects,
brands and goods. Contemporary popular culture increasingly focuses on critiques of mothers
(encapsulated by the media generated definitions such as ‘yummy mummy’/ ‘slummy mummy’)
almost exclusively in terms of social class relationships to cultures of consumption. Should we
extend the dyadic understanding of mothers and infants as mutually constituting, to one that more
resembles a triangulated structure of mothers, infants and things? How is the understanding of the
interrelation of mothers and markets furthered through analysis of the brands, goods and designs
inculcated in this process? How might understandings of social class be enhanced by cross-cultural
and inter-disciplinary inquiries that acknowledge commodities as integral agents, rather than passive
reflections, of certain forms of mothering? Where does the agency of the infant/child reside in these
This discussion considers the challenges of inter-disciplinary research in the area of mothers and
consumption and the potential cross-overs into childhood studies. It explores the methodological
and theoretical possibilities of the object based inter-disciplinary fields (material culture and design
history) in addressing the intertwined relation of children, mothers, markets and goods and their
historical trajectories.
Title: Promoting interdisciplinary research on families and food
Presenter: Peter Jackson (Professor in Human Geography, University of Sheffield and Director of
‘Changing Families, Changing Food’)
This presentation will focus on the challenges of promoting interdisciplinary research on families and
food, drawing on the recent experience of directing a large research programme on ‘Changing
Families, Changing Food’ (funded by The Leverhulme Trust). The programme attempted to provide a
new perspective on family life by approaching family through the lens of food. The 15 constituent
projects were organised into three strands stretching across the life-course from pregnancy and
motherhood to childhood and family life, out into the wider community. A fourth strand provided
an historical dimension (via quantitative and qualitative ‘time-lines’) and some international
comparisons (with Hungary and Japan), designed to highlight the specificity of food and family issues
in contemporary Britain. The research team included experts from the health and clinical sciences
and from nursing and midwifery, as well as nutritionists, sociologists, geographers and historians
based at the University of Sheffield and at Royal Holloway-University of London. The project ran
from just over three years and finishes in December 2008. The presentation will focus on some of
the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration including a paper about food consumption in nondomestic settings that draws on the findings of four separate projects and a project on changing
representations of diet and health in women’s magazines that combined the skills of a nutritionist
and a cultural historian. The presentation will also highlight some of the challenges of working
across disciplinary boundaries including the ‘translation’ of different research vocabularies,
traditions and approaches, and different expectations and conventions regarding joint publication.
Title: Situations in a common culture: Interdisciplinary strategies for mapping modern
Presenters: Mary Jane Kehily (Senior Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies, Open University)
and Rachel Thomson (Professor of Social Research, Open University)
Commercialisation and commodification have transformed the meaning and experience of
mothering in the post war period, with the greater availability of labour saving devices and the
stylising of pregnancy and baby-hood characterising perceptions of the contemporary period. The
material culture of pregnancy and new motherhood is an important site for the construction of
identities and the performance of cultural distinction between women. The Making of Modern
Motherhood is an ESRC funded study documenting and exploring the diversity and coherence of
motherhood as a contemporary identity. The study brings together methodologies and analytic
frameworks from sociology and cultural studies in order to explore the dynamic relationship
between the very different situations that constitute motherhood and the common popular culture
through which mothering is represented and consumed. In this paper we explain how we combined
disciplinary traditions, synthesising an analysis of pregnancy magazines, visual documentations of
expectant mothers’ preparations for birth, and the interview accounts of 62 women. We focus on
the way in which age operates as a canonical category for the construction of contemporary
mothering as ‘too early’, ‘too late’ or ‘just right’ – and the ways in which these categories resonate
with popular representations of mothering.
Title: Reflections on a Cross-Cultural Study of Motherhood and Consumption
Presenter: Andrea Prothero (Associate Professor at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business
School, Dublin) on behalf of the VOICE group
This presentation focuses on a collective, collaborative research project focusing on motherhood
and consumption in Denmark, Ireland, the UK and the USA, which began in September 2005. The
study itself is interpretive, exploring consumption experiences and the transition of expectant
mothers. It focuses on within and across culture differences and similarities of our participants, who
were interviewed pre and post the birth of their first child. Other forms of data were also collected,
including consumption diaries and photographs of certain goods that were either purchased or
received in other means, such as gifts or on loan.
The presentation will also consider the VOICE group and the challenges and opportunities of
collaboration on an interpretive research project across four countries and with eight authors.
Whilst collaborating academically within multi-author teams is a common occurrence, reflections on
research teamwork are relatively rare, and this presentation addresses this issue.
(This paper is the result of collective, collaborative research undertaken by members of The Voice
Group. The members of this group, in alphabetical order, are Andrea Davies (Leicester University),
Susan Dobscha (Bentley University), Susi Geiger (University College Dublin), Stephanie O’Donohoe
(The University of Edinburgh), Lisa O’Malley (University of Limerick), Andrea Prothero (University
College Dublin), Elin Sørensen (Univ. of Southern Denmark), Thyra Uth Thomsen (Copenhagen
Business School).)
Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption
ESRC seminar series 2008 – 2010
Booking Form
Your Name
Your institution or organisation
Your contact details
Your email address
Your telephone number
Any special dietary requirement
Please provide a three-line work related biography:
Please return this booking form as an email attachment to:
Sue Humphries: