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Recent feminist and psychoanalytic accounts of mothering have been profoundly shaped by the work of Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott, Nancy Chodorow, and Julia Kristeva. Although their work spans many decades, these writers share the goal of understanding object relations, that is, the child's relation to internalized "objects"—most often the mother, as the child's first caretaker. Doane and Hodges chart the development of "mother-centered" psychoanalysis and its influence on feminist thought in a number of fields and show how the effort to elevate the importance of the mother has become implicated in the current effort to restrict possibilities for women to "opportunities" associated with hearth and home.
The authors argue that discussions of the maternal role always exist within an ideological framework in which they are purveyed to particular groups at particular times. In our own historical moment, ideas of maternal propriety have been vigorously argued, as in custody battles, where experts debate whether or not individual women are "good enough" mothers. From Klein to Kristeva traces the ways in which object-relations accounts of mothering have worked to encourage the view that "good enough" mothers find "their whole self" at home. What does this view of mothering mean for working women? How does it help promote arguments that "fetal rights" are more important than a mother's own desires? By recovering the historical context of object-relations theory and closely attending to the language of important theorists, Doane and Hodges make visible the extraordinary influence of object relations on the discourses in many fields and demonstrate the power of psychological theory to shape both popular and academic discussions of maternal propriety.