Different Chores, Different People: The Construction of Maternal Subjectivity and Children's Autonomy in Post-Socialist Bulgaria and Hungary

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Irina CHERESHEVA, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
In line with recent trends across much of the global North and beyond, there has been a contemporary intensification of parenting and a reconceptiualisation of childhood as a central period of one’s subjectification throughout a number of post-socialist countries. This intensification has led to the care work of parents being increasingly emphasised by childcare experts and policy makers alike. This paper looks at how the mothering practices of middle class women on parental leave in two post-socialist cities (Budapest, Hungary and Sofia, Bulgaria), conceptualised as performative, discursive and contextual, become structural to these women’s maternal subjectivities.

Primarily, I focus on how my research participants incorporate the changing knowledges about personal autonomy into their everyday care work. Autonomy within personhood is central to western understandings of the subject, despite being problematized by feminists, post-structuralists and psychoanalysts alike. Within the post-socialist context the concept of autonomy occupies a contested space, where notions of the subject often oscillate between communitarian and hyper-individualistic. These contrasting understandings are not only mediated by a change of political regimes, but are lived and experienced by classed and raced maternal bodies.

This paper applies the principles of feminist intersectionality to analyse the narratives 40 middle-class women from Budapest and Sofia created about the ways their childcare practices fostered autonomy in their children. Despite the differences between the mothering styles of my interviewees, a clear majority listed their children becoming happy, independent individuals as their number one priority as mothers. Nevertheless, the technologies of care through which they expected to achieve this result were almost contrary in the two research locations. Looking at childcare historically well into the state-socialist era, I try to provide a critical reading of the striking dissimilarities between the mothering practices of post-socialist women, often mistakenly described as uniform across (western) academia.