At the upcoming Australian Anthropology Society’s conference (Deakin University, November 23 – 26) I will host the panel From Mothering as Reproduction to Mothering as Revolution. This panel speaks to the conference theme of “life support” by proposing “revolutionary mothering” as a model for an anthropology of human being in a world falling apart. Mothering can be defned as
“the practice of creating, nurturing, affirming and supporting life…the queerest thing human beings can do”Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines
Mothering is revolutionary because, “children are the ways that the world begins again and again” (Jordan). A revolutionary holds that other worlds are possible and supportable. Over forty years ago, American Sociologist Nancy Chodorow envisaged mothering in terms of reproduction: “universal” male domination and cliched female personality traits, she argued, were re-made again and again because of female bodily capacities (pregnancy, lactation) and processes of psychological identification. Her image of revolution (male childcare and women in the workforce) sat uneasily against her universalism… but easily with neoliberalism. That said, Chodorow did put her finger on something important: there is a tendency to ignore mothers.
Ethnographic attention gravitates to anything but, then and now, leaving each generation to rediscover the mother. We are always coming home. Even so, the work remains. How can we write “mother-full” ethnographies? How can mother-full writing move from the margins to the centre? How can revolutionary mothering ground renewed theory and practice? For instance, can knowledge of the too-easy split between “bad mother/good mother” challenge the twin assumptions of pop-economics: scarcity (bad mother absence) and boundless growth (good mother abundance)? The panel includes mother-full contributions of ethnography, theory, and history-of-anthropology, including my paper on ‘Mothering in the Lao Revolution: Sacrifice, masochism and other idealisations’.