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Accepted Paper:

Mapping the Maternal Metre : Representations of Maternity in 21st Century Literature in Neoliberal Contexts.  
Anna Ernst (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Paper short abstract:

Contemporary maternal literature from neoliberal societies engages in various ways in challenges faced by young mothers. Some of these works reveal promising potential for the empowerment of mothers in their ability to construct social networks based on ambivalence and vulnerability.

Paper long abstract:

Paradoxical discourses of women and the good mother in neoliberal societies lead to ambivalent

experiences of maternity in young mothers. Contemporary literary representations of the maternal

have shown a variety of ways of dealing with this maternal clash. Based on research into national

trends from German, Anglo-Saxon, Dutch and Swedish literature, this paper draws a cartography of

contemporary women’s writing on maternity in neoliberal societies and relates their trends in

maternal representations to neoliberal ideologies of parenting and the self. The corpus crosses

generic boundaries in its incorporation of novels as well as poetry and the relatively new genre of the

maternal memoir (the so-called momoir).

In a postcritical way I have examined how these maternal literatures can work as affirmative

technologies in constructing empowering maternal networks. The second part of the paper seeks to

find potential maternal empowerment through Johannes Völz’ (2019) reflections on literature’s

renewed engagements with neoliberal networked selves. Maternal novels tend to focus on

problematic motherhood, which categorizes them as literary examples of failed connections of

mothers to their social networks, resulting in a questionable resistance potential. Conversely, the

momoirs and maternal Dutch poetry engage with readers by importing social networks into the text.

Ambivalence and vulnerability serve as identification techniques through which these works create

material connections between reader and text. Regardless of their tendency toward essentialist

maternity, they transcend the political potential of the novels’ problematic maternity through their

construction of social networks in which vulnerability serves as a resistance to resilience.

Panel P013b
Motherhood Transformed and Transforming; Discussing the role of motherhood(s) and mother work in constructing futures of hope II
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -