Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Maternalism Reconsidered

25 January 2002 to 26 January 2002

Mothers' rights constitute an essential element in gendered histories of welfare states. Often maternity benefits are juxtaposed with male worker benefits in the context of widespread notions on the development of Western two-channel welfare states. In such cases mothers' rights serve as an indicator of the male breadwinner-mindedness of a given public insurance system at a particular moment in time. But the social rights of women as mothers are historically interesting for more reasons. Experts - like Jane Lewis, Gisela Bock, Pat Thane, Sonya Michel and Seth Koven, Theda Skocpol, Theresa Kulawik, Ann Cova, Christiane Eifert, Joanne Goodwin, Molly Ladd Taylor, Gwendolynn Mink, Lynn Haney and Susan Pedersen - supply us with ample evidence.
The research into mother's rights and the discourse regarding these rights in different countries shed light on the history of for example population policies, the socio-economic (in)dependence of ordinary people and, last but not least, on women's agency in the past. Women have attempted to influence maternity-arrangements, -benefits and the political debates about them in many ways. Feminist power in the debate is a popular theme in the flourishing historiography, as well as the relationship between feminism and maternalism. There are quite a few international comparisons in this area, but ... the concept of maternalism is a slippery one, as Jane Lewis noted in a review in Gender and History, April 1994.
Is it simply policies for women by women? Is it mostly about measures to improve the well-being of mothers and children? Or is it a kind of familial feminism, a strategy to demand civil rights based on the (potential) role of women as mothers? Do we have to see it as a limiting or redistributive way of thinking?

The workshop was organized in order to
- gain insight in unpublished research on maternity-benefits and the ‘female voice' in various countries
- come to grips with (the pitfalls regarding historical research on) the relationship between feminism and maternalism in different states
- gain a better perception of which interpretation of maternalism best suits international comparisons