Discourses of motherhood and stigma production: FASD public awareness-raising in British Columbia, 1979–2015




Norton, Alexa

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This study traces the evolution of motherhood discourses in 41 fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) public awareness documents produced in British Columbia from 1979–2015. These documents offer a window for understanding how dominant cultural values and motherhood norms are upheld and promoted via FASD prevention, with special implications for women marginalized by race, culture, and socioeconomic status. In order to deconstruct dominant discourses, this project is rooted in feminist post-structuralism and uses a Foucauldian-inspired discourse analysis as its method. Drawing on Carol Bacchi’s (2009) problematization framework, I analyzed the documents using two questions: 1) What is ‘the problem’ represented to be? and 2) What presuppositions or assumptions underlie this representation of ‘the problem’? Findings indicate that FASD public awareness-raising overwhelmingly positions maternal substance use as a woman’s individual choice. Alcohol abstention is framed as a duty to the fetus, although it is framed differently depending on the targeted audience. Findings show that documents present maternal substance use as a gauge of fitness for motherhood and unfairly focus on women who are racialized, low-income, and young. Uniquely, documents produced by and for Indigenous populations differed thematically than for the general population. In conclusion, this study highlights how FASD public awareness-raising promotes dominant cultural values and adheres to a neoliberal health promotion tradition.



FASD, stigma, motherhood, discourse, BC, Foucault, problematization