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Single parents through thick and thin

Research project Welfare queen or everyday hero? Fertility tourist of milf/dilf? Single mothers and single fathers are presented, and present themselves, in many different ways in media, on film and social media. This anthology project analyses normative structures as well as strategies of resistance in narratives from Europe, North America, Australia and Africa.

This anthology project, entitled Single Parents: Representations and Resistance in an International Context, brings together scholars from Europe, North America and Australia. The material investigated comprises film and literature as well as newspaper articles, blogs and discussion forums, and the scholars investigate how single parents are presented and present themselves. The focus is on both local and global contexts, on normative strategies and on the parents’ strategies for managing and resisting them.

Head of project

Berit Åström
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2019-03-01 2021-08-01

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Language Studies

Research area

Gender studies, General literary studies, Sociology

Project description

The project originated in the conference Close Relations, which was organised by The Swedish Network for Family and Kinship Studies in October 2018. The result has been published in 2021 in the form of an anthology, Single Parents: Representation and Resistance, in the Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Life.

The construction of single mothers

In the project, the construction and regulation of single mothers is analysed, for example how they are placed within a social hierarchy based on income, ethnicity or the way they became single mothers, or through the many American advice books published specifically for single mothers.

Representation in popular culture

The scholars further investigate representations in film, tv and literature. They analyse, for instance, the varying images of American single fathers, as heroes or well-meaning failures. One study shows how the choice to become a single mother through IVF is constructed as a step towards heteronormative coupledom, while another focuses on normative structures restricting single mothers in Czech bestsellers. Some scholars study representation of young single mothers in German, Irish and Moroccan film, and highlight the broad span in these representations, from isolation and social stigmatisation to acceptance and normalisation.

(Self)representation in (social) media

The scholars also analyse representation and self-representation in different types of media. They investigate, for example how Swedish single fathers are described and describe themselves on dating sites or how French single mothers support each other in blogs and discussion forums.

Single mother by choice

A growing number of women choose to become single mothers through IVF. Scholars have analysed stories from France, Sweden and Australia which show the women’s different encounters with health staff as well as society in general, ranging from help and support to condemnation and shaming.

More reading

The Swedish Network for Family and Kinship Studies

Single Parents: Representations and Resistance in an International Context

Latest update: 2023-08-16