Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Discursive Matrixes of Motherhood

Cultivating Decency and Emotion in Finnish and French Mother-talk

Heini Martiskainen de Koenigswarter

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology, and University of Versailles - Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (France), Faculty of Social and Human Sciences .

Discursive Matrixes of Motherhood examines women's discourse on their experiences of new motherhood in Finland and France. It sets out from two culturally prevalent turns of speech observed in different social forums: in conversations amongst mothers with tertiary education and in the print media. The pool of data includes: 30 interviews, 8 autobiographically inspired novels and 80 items from women's magazines. With instruments loaned from the toolbox of rhetorical analysis, the recurrence of certain expressions or clichés is analyzed with regard to the national, cultural, biographical, political and daily contexts and settings in which the speaking subjects are immersed.

"Staying at home is such a short and special time", the first expression under scrutiny, caught the sociological eye because of its salience in Finland and because it appeared as contradictory with a core characteristic of the Finnish context:long family leave. The cliché was found to function as a discursive micromechanism which swept mothers' 'complaints' under the proverbial carpet. Proper emotions and decency in mother-talk thereby appear as collective achievements.

An opposite phenomenon - that of the scaling up of rewards procured by children - was also discerned in the data. Indeed, the French expression "Profiter de mon enfant" ["making the most of my child"/"enjoying my child"] is interpreted as a crystallization of a hedonist ethos of motherhood in everyday language. Secondly, the recurrence of this utterance is analyzed in the light of a requisite located in child-rearing expert literature: that of pleasure that women should take in mothering.

Hence, one of the rules found to structure the discursive matrixes of motherhood is the laudability and audibility of enjoyment and conversely the discretion and discouragement of 'complaints'. The cultivation of decent matches between certain categories of emotions and certain categories of individuals also appears as a characteristic of discursive matrixes. One of the methodological findings relates to the fact that such matches may be constituted as sociological objects through the identification of recurrent discursive crystallizations in a given culture. Ideal matches may crystallize in turns of speech and mismatches can be managed through clichés. Becoming a mother entails an immersion in such a particular economy of speech.

Key words: mothers, motherhood, transition to parenthood, family, emotions, morality, bonds, rhetorical analysis, discourse analysis, media analysis, France, Finland, comparative sociology

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Last updated 05.12.2006

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