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Negotiating closed doors and constraining deadlines: the potential of visual ethnography to effectually explore private and public spaces of motherhood and parenting

Mannay, Dawn ORCID:, Creaghan, Jordon, Gallagher, Dunla, Marzella, Ruby, Mason, Sherelle, Morgan, Melanie and Grant, Aimee ORCID: 2018. Negotiating closed doors and constraining deadlines: the potential of visual ethnography to effectually explore private and public spaces of motherhood and parenting. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 47 (6) , pp. 758-781. 10.1177/0891241617744858

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Pregnancy and motherhood are increasingly subjected to surveillance, by medical professionals, the media and the general public; and discourses of ideal parenting are propagated alongside an admonishment of the perceived ‘failing’ maternal subject. However, despite this scrutiny, the mundane activities of parenting are often impervious to ethnographic forms of inquiry. Challenges for ethnographic researchers include the restrictions of becoming immersed in the private space of the home where parenting occurs, and an institutional structure that discourages exploratory and long-term fieldwork. This paper draws on four studies, involving 34 participants, which explored their journeys into the space of parenthood and their everyday experiences. The studies all employed forms of visual ethnography including artefacts, photo-elicitation, timelines, collage and sandboxing. The paper argues that visual methodologies can enable access to unseen aspects of parenting, and engender forms of temporal extension, which can help researchers to disrupt the restrictions of tightly time bounded projects.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Healthcare Sciences
Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Uncontrolled Keywords: visual methods; sandboxing; timelines; artefacts; motherhood; infant feeding; mothers
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Publisher: SAGE
ISSN: 0891-2416
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Children and Young People’s Research Network, Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 22 November 2017
Date of Acceptance: 17 October 2017
Last Modified: 05 May 2023 21:45

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