University of Sussex
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Contextualising abortion: a life narrative study of abortion and social class in neoliberal England

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posted on 2023-06-09, 12:00 authored by Gillian LoveGillian Love
This project is a narrative interview study of fifteen women who have had abortions in England since 2008. It aims to answer the questions: 1. How do women in England make meaning about their abortion experiences? 2. What aspects of their identities and life experiences contribute to this meaning-making? 3. In particular, how does class structure this meaning-making? England is in the midst of a long-term political project of austerity and neoliberal governance which has prompted renewed sociological attention to the issue of social class. In this context, discourse on abortion reflects and reproduces societal beliefs about gender, class and reproduction: who should reproduce; who has a legitimate ‘excuse’ not to reproduce; and what judgement should be passed on women who choose to end their pregnancies. Through the work of Beverley Skeggs and Michel Foucault, this study examines how women who have had abortions in this context make meaning about their experiences, and how class and gender are constructed in their narratives. This study contributes to literature on the internalisation of neoliberal modes of self-governance in relation to reproduction. It argues that the process of requesting an abortion extends a demand to women to perform precarity in ways that are more possible for some women than others. Abortion narratives are therefore shaped by access to classed ‘discursive resources,’ and the women’s relationships to responsibility were also shaped by their class positions. Finally, this study contributes to the rich literature on abortion stigma by applying the Foucauldian concepts of biopolitics and governmentality to abortion narratives, arguing that abortion experiences in contemporary England are shaped by the confluence of abortion stigma, the neoliberal injunction to self-regulate, and the societal construction of womanhood as biologically painful. Using Foucault’s concept of ‘technologies of the self,’ I conclude that through these women’s accounts, the specific regulatory practices that produce middle-class womanhood can be better understood. The study therefore explores how wider processes of neoliberal governance might be insinuated, embodied, and resisted by individual women.


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