Mothers and playgroups: "Doing" motherhood in the social sphere

Date of Completion

January 2003


Sociology, General




In this dissertation, I examine how the construction of motherhood is based on not only the relationship between mothers and their children, but is also premised on relationships between and among mothers. Such relationships are the foundation of what I call a mother-centered motherhood. Based on participant observation in three playgroup settings and in-depth interviews with playgroup participants and moderators, I examine mothers' relationships and the process of “doing” motherhood. My research suggests that mothers use playgroups in three different, yet overlapping ways: to develop a sense of community: to seek validation; and to claim and exercise expertise. How mothers come to “do” motherhood in playgroups and use playgroups to “do” motherhood is affected by their social location—as the majority of the women in this study are White, middle-class stay-at-home mothers—changes within the towns where they live and how the organization of the playgroup settings. Most important, my research suggests that examining motherhood in playgroups transcends the public/private dichotomy that continues to guide much of the research on motherhood; thus illuminating how motherhood is a product of interactions in the “social sphere.” ^