Mothers behind bars: defining and redefining self




Berikoff, Ahna

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The central focus of this thesis is an exploration of how mothers in prison construct a sense of self as mothers according to motherhood ideologies and reconstruct this sense of self as a result of imprisonment. The study, informed by feminist poststructuralism, shows how relations of power/knowledge shape the experiences of women in prison leading to marginalization. The notion of the constitution of subjectivities through discourses offers `other' ways to see the lives of imprisoned mothers, destabilizing assumptions and constructed truths and challenging fixed frameworks of meaning and truth surrounding motherhood. The research methodology employed was a qualitative approach based on `interpretive interactionism'. The premise of this approach was to make visible and accessible to the reader, the problematic lived experiences of the participants through their stories. The research methods involved interviews with six imprisoned women who shared stories of their experiences being mothers. The analysis involved an interpretation of the meanings participants applied to mothering in prison, expressed by their feelings, thoughts and practice of mothering. The participants' position as mothers within a prison institution was met with daily challenges as they sought out ways to have relationships with their children and maintain a sense of self as mothers. The research showed that even in a restricted prison environment of limited choices participants were able to be agents of choice and possibilities. The study shows that the participants resisted dominant ideologies of motherhood and maintained a sense of being mothers through connections with their children, with each other, as well as through self-reflection and harbouring hopes and dreams for the future. Feminist poststructuralism provided the tools for revealing the possibilities of alternative ways of mothering in prison that did not hinge on being either `good' or `bad' mothers.



women prisoners, children, Canada