Different ways of seeing: the language games of mothering

Mitchell, Elizabeth (2006) Different ways of seeing: the language games of mothering. Ph.D. thesis, University of Warwick.


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My thesis is original in placing together Wittgenstein’s ideas of how language works, and arguments for the philosophical significance of the embodied and relational figure of the mother. I both use and resist a Wittgensteinian therapy to overcome the problem of the forgetting of the mother in philosophy.

I begin with the problem of essentialism, important to Wittgenstein and to feminist philosophy. My reading of Wittgenstein finds an ignored lacuna between language and (female) experience. I add in to the debate the type specimen approach from botany. Adopting this approach enables me to avoid a classification which requires a true inner essence to mothering, and provides a way for me to denote the significant place of the language games of mothering in language games about women.

I argue for a different symbol of the mother. I agree with Wittgenstein’s account of language, but add to it. I show the importance of Wittgenstein’s insight that although meaning is not fixed independently of use, use does not fix meaning in that I create new meanings for the figure of the mother. I argue, through an exploration of Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘übersichtlichen Darstellung’, that Wittgenstein can help us to see the phenomena of our life differently, in a way that makes space for understanding female difference. His concept of a form of life provides such openings.

As the Wittgensteinian agent seems distinctly un-female, I bring in the philosophy of Kierkegaard in my argument for a different relational self as mother. I argue for a Kierkegaardian flexible maternal self with mobile edges. I insert the language games of the mother into Kierkegaard’s writing on women. My aim is a more adequate representation of a (true) reality.

I use the work of John Wisdom to make a bridge between Wittgenstein and the narrative form, which I use throughout. Wisdom’s strategy is to engage in unconventional reflection in looking for new ways of telling philosophical stories, and in finding new patterns of meaning in the familiar. I claim that the narrative form enables me to express the shifting essence of the mother and the diversity of mothers; and to acknowledge the silences which are part of the mother’s story.

My aim in this thesis is creative. I use Wittgenstein to create a new kind of relation to philosophy. I do not offer a correct reading of Wittgenstein or Kierkegaard. Instead, aided by the insights provided by feminist philosophy, I write in the language games of the mother to their ideas. Thus, I bring into existence through utterance a different, feminist philosophical symbol of the mother.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General) > B0790 Modern > B3376.W564 Wittgenstein
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General) > B0790 Modern > B4377.C29 Kierkegaard
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman > HQ0755.7 Parents. Parenthood > HQ0759 Motherhood
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman > HQ1101 Women. Feminism > HQ1190 Philosophy
Divisions: pre Nov-2014 > Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences > Applied Social Sciences
Depositing User: Users 99 not found.
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2011 13:28
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2016 09:21
URI: https://create.canterbury.ac.uk/id/eprint/10317

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00