My mum is on strike! Social reproduction and the (emotional) labor of 'mothering work' in neoliberal Britain

Gareth Brown, Claire English

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Abstract

This article will explore the ways mothers and carers use the term 'emotional labor' to describe the exhaustion and burnout associated with socially reproductive tasks, rather than the performance of affective labor in the workplace. Scholars of social reproduction theory claim that emotion is key to understanding the specificities of gendered alienation, yet it remains under-theorised. This article seeks to understand how the emotional lives of carers have been transformed by neoliberal processes that have intensified labor both within and beyond the home. Drawing on interviews with participants from the 2019 'My Mum is on Strike' stay and play event, alongside ethnographic insights from online mothering blogs, sometimes referred to as the 'mamasphere' (Wilson et al., 2017), this article seeks to contextualize the experiences of carers who narrate their reproductive labor as emotional 'work'. Given the conditions of neoliberal rationality and the marketization of society, where every 'field of activity horizontal ellipsis and entity (whether public or private, whether person, business, or state) is understood as a market and governed as a firm' (Brown, 2015), emotional labor and the associated gendered expectations may begin to 'feel like' work, and we argue that this is felt in a specific way by those carrying out mothering labor, warranting further academic investigation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalGender, Work and Organisation
Early online date13 Jun 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jun 2023

Keywords

  • social reproduction
  • emotional labour
  • feminism
  • reproductive labour
  • Neoliberalism

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