Abstract: Upward mobility has been tied to racialization of identity in the U.S. since its inception. According to Thandeka (2007), for white people, social class is race, and the way to become “whiter” was (and is) through upward mobility. This narrative of upward mobility is perpetrated in part through normalizing cultural discourses (Foucault & Ewald, 2003), in which upward mobility is constructed as smooth and leading to unquestionably desirable outcomes. These discourses hold particular interest in relation to the role of “mother” in the U.S., as mothers are often in the position of imagining and helping to create the future trajectories of their children (Barry, Osborne & Rose, 1996; Danaher, Schirato & Webb, 2000; Donzelot, 1979; Rose, 1999). This study was an inquiry of the ways in which white mothers from working class backgrounds narrated their experiences with upward mobility. I was interested in the relationship between normalizing cultural narratives of upward mobility and the narratives the participants took up in their daily lives. In addition, I was interested in the ways in which these narrations influenced their identities in the culturally constructed role of “mother,” as a feature of idealized white femininity. Through the use of the arts-based methodology of dramatization (Saldaña, 1999, 2008) and post-intentional phenomenological interview methods (Vagle, 2014), I produced a script based on the narratives of three focal participants. This script was also used in the analysis process, to illuminate the ways in which the narratives of the mothers in the study contained moments of both adherence to normalizing cultural discourses and ruptures with those normalizing discourses. The narratives of the participants in this study revealed complicated stories of upward mobility that did not match the smooth trajectory of the American Dream. The ways in which the narratives of the participants differed from the normalizing narratives of upward mobility varied, depending on personal experience. The narratives contained multiple stories of tension and loss, creating three portraits of conflicted identity related to upward mobility.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2015. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Timothy Lensmire. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 177 pages.
Clements, Colleen H.
Normalizing Discourses of Upward Mobility: Working Class Roots, Motherhood, and Idealized White Femininity.
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