Motherhood, madness, and the role of the state

Judith Mosoff
This thesis examines the state processes that are involved in removing children from mothers with mental health histories. In particular, the thesis analyzes the ways in which the ideology of motherhood intersects with the expert discourses of psychology and psychiatry to affect child welfare decisions. The study reviews mental health and child welfare legislation in each province in Canada and 61 court decisions where the mother had a mental health history. In examining the statutory
more » ... , the thesis suggests that the legislative provisions treat children and mentally disordered persons similarly because they include the following common factors: a positive duty on the state to intervene in defined circumstances, procedures for responding to a crisis, legitimation of state intrusion to the otherwise private, an explicit or implicit best interest test, and the importance of expert opinion. In order to analyze their influence on judicial decision-making, this thesis examines the underlying assumptions of psychiatry and the ideology of motherhood. Four important elements of psychiatric discourse are: a focus on the individual, reliance on assessment and taxonomy, predictability of human development, and expertise in analyzing hidden motivation. By providing the scientific underpinnings, psychiatry reinforces the ideology of motherhood and cultural conceptions of which women are fit mothers. The thesis outlines the following components of the ideology of motherhood which inform judicial decision-making in child welfare cases: motherhood as an essential part of being a woman, the context of a heterosexual nuclear family, the intrinsic rewards of mothering, and the extreme selflessness required of motherhood. In combination, the influence of psychiatry and the ideology of motherhood undermines the possibility that a woman can be coincidentally both a "good" mother and a "good" patient. In addition to describing the underlying assumptions of mainstream psychiatry, the thesis reviews radical [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0077558 fatcat:dlqbmbulbfbk5ee3kwem456u2y