University of Leicester

Maternity Leaves, Maternal Becomings: The Cultural Construction of Mothering in Present-Day Budapest and Sofia

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posted on 2019-09-04, 09:55 authored by Irina Cheresheva
This thesis is a comparative exploration of the everyday childcare practices of new middle-class mothers on maternity leave in contemporary Budapest and Sofia. To investigate these practices, I conducted a feminist critical discourse analysis of 35 semi-structured interviews across the two cities. Linking my respondents’ narratives about childcare choices to larger socio-political processes during and after state socialism, I provide a historicised analysis of maternal subjectivities as performatively constructed vis-à-vis culturally specific narratives of children’s needs, and trace the implications this has for the deconstruction of the concept of subjectivity within feminist scholarship. Unlike the approach of exposing contradictions between maternal and other (perceived as autonomous) subjects, building on psychoanalysis and post-structuralist feminist sociology, I articulate the cooperative maternal subject ‘otherwise’ as a relational formation that emerges in the process of an ethical encounter with the other. My research shows that mothers embody a subjectivity that can hardly contain itself within the illusion of a coherent, bounded ‘I’. This leads them to un/consciously create complicated chainlike selves, which include the people indispensable in their daily existence as carers. However, respondents fill their narration of motherhood with different meanings in the two locations when it comes to practices on the ground. This is due to the almost opposite discursive conceptualisations of women’s role in society under late Hungarian and Bulgarian state socialism, despite their similar welfare policies. I also investigate the hierarchical equation of middle-class motherhood to good motherhood, at the expense of ‘othered’ practices to challenge the western-centric tradition in the analysis of classed parenting and the practice of lumping post-socialist countries together in a culturally undifferentiated mass. Simultaneously, I conceive a politically relevant Eastern European epistemic perspective, reflecting the marginal position Eastern Europe occupies in relation to the global ‘North-West’ and its own complicated relationship with racism, as both victim and perpetrator.



Brewis, Jo; Pilcher, Jane

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of Sociology

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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