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Translating maternal violence: the discursive construction of maternal filicide in 1970s Japan

Castellini, Alessandro (2013) Translating maternal violence: the discursive construction of maternal filicide in 1970s Japan. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The present dissertation takes late postwar Japan as its case study and investigates the ways in which ambivalence to/in motherhood’ emerges at the very site where maternal violence and, more specifically, maternal filicide disrupts social norms of acceptable maternal behaviour. In 1970s Japan the number of cases of mothers who killed their own children saw a dramatic increase to the point of reaching, within media representations in particular, the dimension of a social phenomenon. Within the framework of idealizations of maternal identity, formulated in terms of continuous love, self-sacrifice and domesticity, filicidal mothers came to be labelled as either "bad" (cruel, monstrous) or "mad" (mentally unstable, neurotic). The apparent proliferation of maternal child-killing and what was perceived as the unjust treatment meted out to these criminalized mothers became a major concern for a new women’s liberation movement emerging in Japan between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, known as ūman ribu (woman lib). Ribu contested the widespread characterization of mothers who kill as either devilish or mentally ill, and drew on the numerical increase of cases of maternal filicide as evidence of a symptomatic malfunctioning of the dominant gender ideology in modern Japanese society. Postwar Japan also witnessed a boom in women’s literature whose focus on the grotesque, on worlds of dreams and madness and on the morbid portrayal of female antisocial behaviours constituted fertile terrain for the proliferation of disquieting images of motherhood and maternal violence. This thesis focuses on the work by Japanese writer Takahashi Takako as a specific case study to address the discursive construction of filicidal mothers in women’s literature. This study acknowledges motherhood as a heated site of contested meanings and focuses on a close textual reading of media coverage, the rhetoric of ribu and women’s literature in order to explore the discursive constructions of mothers who kill which characterised early 1970s Japan. It sheds light on the problematic interactions between the different discourses under consideration and identifies the relationship between motherhood and violence as a hot-spot where clashing discourses produce a constant re-articulation of maternal and female identity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Alessandro Castellini
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Sets: Departments > Gender Institute
Supervisor: Hemmings, Clare

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