University of Notre Dame

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Epistemologies of Motherhood: Investigations of Political Behavior, Visual Productive Methods, and Anticipatory Identity

posted on 2024-03-14, 13:46 authored by Abigail Jorgensen

What researchers think they know shapes what more they can learn. This reality has determined academic understandings of myriad topics, including motherhood. In this dissertation, I use quantitative and qualitative data to bring academic understandings of motherhood and non-motherhood into alignment with women’s lived experiences, correcting implicit assumptions researchers make, especially in conceptualization and operationalization of “motherhood.”

In the first chapter, I examine a case where commonly used research methods instantiate an incorrect assumption about motherhood, leading to the creation of false knowledge. While most researchers theorize that having a child would increase a woman’s likelihood of voting, statistical studies of motherhood’s impact on political behavior have found a null or negative association. I demonstrate that this finding comes not from a surprising reality but rather from an artifact of methodology – specifically, of a methodological approach that treats motherhood as if it were an ascribed characteristic or randomly-assigned treatment. When, instead of the commonly used cross-sectional models, we use models that account for the non-randomness of motherhood, we see a positive impact of motherhood on political behavior.

In the second chapter, I argue for codified standards in the emergence of a fairly uncommon research method, visual productive methods, specifically, drawings. Using data from questions about motherhood and the relationship between a United States woman and her government, I present a set of codes researchers can use to analyze participant drawings in studies of relationships. These build upon seminal existing work on isolated codes, and bring in other aspects of visual data, to concretize best practices for coding participant-created drawings.

In the third chapter, I theorize a category of motherhood that exists beyond current understandings of women as “mother” and “non-mother:” anticipatory mother. Building on the sociological literature conceptualizing anticipatory motherhood as a social category, I argue for its existence and impact as many women’s shared and lived reality as well. Further, I demonstrate that anticipatory motherhood carried with it an aspect of precarity regarding an individual’s ability to claim the social identity of motherhood.

These chapters individually utilize a range of rigorous methods and draw upon a wide variety of theory; in concert, they push sociological thought toward more relational epistemology of women’s experiences.


Date Modified


Defense Date


CIP Code

  • 16.0905

Research Director(s)

Elizabeth A. McClintock


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation

Alternate Identifier


OCLC Number


Program Name

  • Sociology

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