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Interpreting Images of Motherhood: The Contexts and Dynamics of Collective Viewing


  • Helen Lomax


  • Janet Fink



Our research is concerned with cultural representations of birth and mothering and, as part of this, we are engaged with debates concerning competing theoretical and methodological approaches to the analysis of visual images. In particular we are interested in how meanings of an image are reflexively produced, managed and negotiated. That is, whether and to what extent interpretation is influenced by personal experience, emotion and memory; the ways in which the context of viewing may mediate meaning; and how the relationship between researcher and research subject may shape the interpretative process. In order to explore such questions, this paper draws on the tape-recorded discussion of a group of women collectively viewing images of new mothers. These included photographs of mothers and their newborns taken by the Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, and photographs of us, the authors, as new mothers, taken by our respective families. The paper blends the analytic framework of conversation analysis and discursive psychology in order to consider both our own and the discussants' responses to these photographs as they emerge through the dynamic and discursive process of collective viewing. In addition we consider the significance of our own and the discussants' biographies and reproductive experiences, as they are made visible in the talk-in-interaction, for the meanings generated by the group's engagement with the photographs. Through this reflexive approach we highlight the significance of the interplay between broader cultural narratives, genres, memories and experiences for the interpretive process and the analytical challenges posed by collective viewings of images in which meanings are discursively situated, negotiated and silenced.

Suggested Citation

  • Helen Lomax & Janet Fink, 2010. "Interpreting Images of Motherhood: The Contexts and Dynamics of Collective Viewing," Sociological Research Online, Sociological Research Online, vol. 15(3), pages 1-2.
  • Handle: RePEc:sro:srosro:2009-82-2

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