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Placing guilt and shame: lone mothers' experiences of higher education in Aotearoa New Zealand

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This study examines twelve lone mothers' experiences of higher education at two universities in New Zealand. Interviews illustrated that lone mothers are often constructed by society as people who deserve to feel guilt for burdening taxpayers and for raising children without a live-in father. This guilt is visceral. It is felt in and lived through bodies on a daily basis. For most of the interviewees, however, succeeding at university also prompted feelings of pride. Drawing on Elspeth Probyn's ideas about guilt, shame and pride enabled us to understand more about lone mothers' experiences of higher education. We remain less certain about guilt's affective capacity for politics in our particular case. For some mothers feeling guilt lead to a questioning of normative constructions of motherhood but for others this was not the case. It would seem, therefore, that guilt's transformative potential can be mobilized in both emancipatory and more normative ways. We also found that lone mothers engaged in higher learning occupy paradoxical space. Some become empowered to see their lives and relationships differently, from the margins and from the centre, through guilt and pride.
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Keywords: corps maternels; cuerpos maternales; culpa; culpabilité; emoción; emotion; espace; espacio; estudiar; gender; genre; guilt; género; maternal bodies; space; study; émotion; études

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Geography Programme,University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105Hamilton, New Zealand 2: School of Psychology,University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105Hamilton, New Zealand

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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