'The Mumpreneur': Intensive Motherhood, Maternal Identity and the Meaning of Educational Work in Singapore

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This ethnographic study explores how Singaporean middle-class women who have opted out of the traditional labour market to support their children actively redefine their roles and responsibilities. How are investments of time, energy, emotional and economic resources in children’s education explained, and what bearing do they have on norms of motherhood? While involved or intensive parenting styles seem to be a global middle-class phenomenon, the ethnographic data suggests that parenting strategies are always embedded in a cultural context, characterized by specific notions of family, childhood, human capital, and intergenerational expectations and obligations. This paper argues that the emphasis on children’s educational achievements in Singapore must be understood in relation to a widely accepted narrative of national survival. The idea of human capital as fundamental to both national and individual progress has trickled down and is indeed reproduced in middle-class parenting strategies that focus on children’s development and academic achievement. While parental involvement reproduces gendered and social inequalities, the ethnographic data unveils a more complex picture. A common feature of the mothers in this study is their aspiration to continue doing something ‘meaningful’ in addition to care work, even though they compromise their professional careers to become ‘better mothers’. The decision to become a ‘mumpreneur’, for example, is interpreted as an example of how middle-class mothers construct an alternative professional identity as they carve out the time and flexibility to care for their children. The meaning of mothers’ educational work must also be seen in relation to a specific cultural idea of intergenerational expectations and obligations, whereby the reciprocal relationship between parents and children is reified.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIntersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jul

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Anthropology
  • Social Work


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