Creating the post-socialist middle-class mother
Global hierarchies and local distinctions
Keywords:middle class, motherhood, Bulgaria, post-socialism, glocal
This paper discusses the ways class distinctions are upheld through the performance of culturally valued childcare practices in a post-socialist capital: Sofia. It is based on 19 in-depth interviews, concerned with the mundane everyday lives of first-time middle-class mothers on maternity leave. I use feminist critical discourse analysis to trace the ways classed power shapes the meaning my interviewees attach to their experiences of motherhood.
Feminist academic literature on motherhood, generally originating in the global west, has long demonstrated how the labour-intensive, financially demanding and time-consuming practices of middle-class mothers historically inform the very idea of ‘good’ motherhood. Seeing the child as a project in need of managing, via an amalgam of diligent provision of organic home-cooked food options, skilful manoeuvring around pre-school selection and an endless supply of extracurricular activities, has been exposed as middle-class privilege and thoroughly critiqued. These practices are implicitly opposed to the more intuitive parenting styles of the working classes. However, automatically linking specific childcare rituals with a certain class standing is also a symptom of the global inequalities in knowledge production, which tend to naturalise western realities as universal truths.
My research shows that class distinction, rather than being produced by the exact practices parents engage in, is the outcome of processes of symbolic and material exclusion through which one imagines oneself as superior. The mothering styles of the socially privileged correlate with the norms enforced by childcare experts and state institutions around the world, but these styles are essentially ‘glocal’ designs. ‘Good’ middle-class mothers in post-socialist Europe anxiously manage their classed performance of motherhood with an awareness of their inferior position in the global class ladder. As such, Bulgarian ‘glocally-appropriate’ parenting merges two symbolic strategies in order to secure a relative and fragile economic privilege: mothers’ preferred childcare styles deploy an array of technologies of exclusion of the socially marginalised poor as well as those perceived as nouveau riche; and they represent an attempt at imagining oneself and her children as ‘civilised’ and valuable Europeans, with a focus on rejecting the country’s socialist past.
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