Disrupting discourses and (re)formulating identities : the politics of single motherhood in post-revolutionary Nicaragua
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
There is a clear relationship between motherhood and space in the sense that motherhood is constituted spatially, taking specific and shifting forms in different spaces and because gendered geographies are made, remade or contested in terms of how women practise motherhood and other social identities in particular spaces. The meanings of motherhood are subject to constant renegotiation when gender identity is lived and constructed in times of hardship, political change or upheaval. Over the last few decades, Nicaragua has experienced dictatorship, insurrection, revolution, Contra war, more than a decade of neoliberal structural adjustment policies and a number of disasters including Hurricane Mitch which hit Nicaragua in October 1998. The social and cultural context in which women mother is a complex one. Family life is unstable and fluid and Nicaragua has large numbers of single mothers. However, a number of institutional actors have attempted to undermine this complexity by trying to fix the meanings of motherhood, family, femininity, masculinity and sexuality in simplified and reified ways. These attempts contribute to the pervasiveness of dominant discourses of motherhood. In many ways, everyday practices of motherhood are at odds with dominant discourses and the goal of this thesis is to broaden understandings of the way motherhood intersects with other cultural processes in particular spaces and of how women negotiate competing facets of multiple identities. Based on qualitative research conducted in Matagalpa with a group of single mothers, this thesis explores a number of arenas in which women negotiate motherhood, including family breakdown, revolution and counterrevolution, structural adjustment and disaster, and demonstrates how everyday practices challenge dominant understandings. Given that individuals participate in a number of discursive practices simultaneously, the intersection of dominant discourses and everyday practices work to create specific geographies of mothering. This means for example that women might adopt more masculine subject positions in relation to work and family while engaging in maternal politics in the political sphere or that male violence towards women can be condemned and single motherhood adopted as a positive form of identity assertion while uneasiness is expressed about the absence of fathers in children’s lives. By contextualising the conditions in which women mother and focusing on how individual women feel about and reflect upon their lives, this study illustrates the multiple dimensions of motherhood which exist within Nicaraguan culture and the contradictions faced by women who mother in sites of intense cultural struggle. This study has important implications for the epistemological transformation that is taking place within feminist geography in particular and within human geography more broadly. Motherhood has the discursive power to shape and define gender identities, but it can also be used to unsettle or destabilise gender and sexuality in material and discursive space.