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Pregnancy starts with a literacy event: pregnancy and ante-natal care as textually-mediated experiences

Project: Non-funded ProjectProjects

1/01/0631/07/08

This research started as an autoethnographic study of my recent experience of pregnancy. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of reading and writing in relation to pregnancy and ante-natal care. Throughout my pregnancy I kept a diary in which I recorded my literacy practices as pregnant woman and a recipient of ante-natal care. I have published my findings in the journal 'Ethnography'. Since then, I have extended this study to include the experiences of other pregnant women. The methodology is primarily interview-based. Where possible, I interview women two to three times, at different stages in their pregnancy. The project is ongoing and fieldwork is expected to end in spring 2010.

With this project, I pursued two interests. The project builds on and extends earlier work on reading and writing as key elements of social and institutional practices and the role of literacy in relation to identity. It is also inspired by my recent work on literacy and health. My second interest is in exploring new methodologies and finding new ways of understanding the role of literacy in social life. This was my first autoethnographic project and I used it to reflect on the potential (but also the limitations) of autoethnography for social sciences generally and literacy studies more specifically. My choice of method was partly inspired by the failure of my previous work to capture what I call the emotional side of literacy. Private and sensitive topics such as health, (or literacy) cannot easily be studied using conventional ethnographic methods. 'Difficult moments' can be told,but not everybody enjoys being interviewed about difficult moments in their lives. Other methods may be called for, including diaries, or perhaps online interviews. The 'emotional side' of literacy refers to why in situations such as encounters with health providers who ask us to make 'informed choices' we do not always perform as 'rational actors'. When difficult moments or experiences in our lives are analysed with conventional social sciences methods, this can lead to lifeless accounts of such experiences, using theoretical language, but leaving the reader with litte understanding or 'feel' for what the story was really about.Narratives of struggle, emotional turmoil, exitment and joycall for a different approach to 'understanding' and theorising. Bochner and Ellis (2003) refer to their autoethnographic work as 'evocative' rather than analytical research and my own project is inspired by this idea.

Based on the auto-ethnography, over the course of the past 15 months, I have interviewed five women at different stages in their pregnancy. Several of them were interviewed repeatedly, to capture changes in their practices related to the different stages of pregnancy. These interviews are open-ended but guided by some initial questions and based on specific texts that women encounter as part of their ante-natal care. The main text discussed frequently are the so-called 'Green Notes', a pregnancy booklet for women, equivalent to the patient file held in the hospital/surgery. Over the course of the previous months, women's own practices of information seeking have emerged as a strong theme.

Study participants are professional women expecting their first or second child, both British and from other European countries. The focus on 'professional' women is deliberate and emanated from my auto-ethnography.

Further key themes are: the role of writing and texts in relation to developing a maternal identity; reading and writing and 'making sense'; ante-natal care as a textually-mediated social world; literacy in relation to my engagement with dominant discourses of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood; and 'difficult moments': not a rational actor but a pregnant woman full of emotions.

Research outputs