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Mothers reproducing the social: Chodorow and beyond

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In The reproduction of mothering, Nancy Chodorow laid the blueprint for understanding mothers and daughters in their intricate psychosexual identification and differentiation. Synthesising object relations theory with feminist sociological concerns regarding gender equality, and the psychosocial reproduction not just of mothering but also of misogyny, Chodorow brought together complex psychoanalytic theory with feminist utopian projects. The mother‐daughter relationship had been hitherto dismissed in orthodox psychoanalysis as irrelevant to the central Oedipal drama. In situating mother‐daughter relations both within the classic ‘family romance’, and also prior to and constitutive of it, Chodorow bequeathed a critically important legacy. She provided a new psychological language for understanding female subjectivity, inclusive of yet differentiating the mother’s and the daughter’s subjectivity. This article reviews Chodorow’s classic work, The reproduction of mothering, while also extending her original formulation to a contemporary understanding of changing gendered social relations. Drawing on the recent work of Alison Stone, I elucidate the process of not only reproducing but also reinventing mothering. From here, I tentatively explore how mothers are symbolically and actually ‘reproducing the social’; or, taking their maternal identities into civil society and transforming that society to incorporate and reflect their interests. Citizen mothers, I argue, have the potential to transform human relations, economies and polities, integrating an ‘ethic of care’ with an ‘ethic of justice’. The last section of this article explores the emergence of ‘autonomous mothers’ and their impact.
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Keywords: Chodorow; daughters; feminism; mothers; psychoanalysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: March 2020

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  • The Journal of Psychosocial Studies publishes work that falls within the broad transdisciplinary area of Psychosocial Studies, defined by a commitment to understanding the significance of the links between internal and external worlds.

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