"Ma vie est vraiment différente de ce que je pensais": A life-story analysis of geographies and gendered subjectivities of Francophone mothers in Kingston

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Simard-Gagnon, Laurence
mothering , linguistic minority , migration , intersectionality , place , everyday life , gender , feminist geography , social reproduction
This dissertation is about migrant Francophone mothers’ experiences of mothering in Kingston, Ontario. It exposes how elements of these women’s life-stories, namely mothering, migration, and minority language, intersect with experiences of places to orient their subjectivities, their material conditions and practices, and their future possibilities in various ways. These intersections of life stories and places shape particular configurations of identification, affiliations, marginalization, power, and powerlessness, and define how patriarchal and heteronormative notions of gender assert themselves in each mother’s life. Kingston is a mid-sized city with a vast Anglophone majority where Francophones comprise less than 5% of the population. Francophone presence is largely invisible and marginal except in designated French-language institutions (e.g. French-language schools). Most Francophones in Kingston are economic migrants and their family members, including military families, from Québec, elsewhere in Canada or abroad. I conducted life-story interviews with thirty-two Francophone mothers living in Kingston in 2016. I also interviewed fifteen women holding key positions in French-language services organizations from 2016-18 while sitting on two planning and advocacy committees for French-language services. Significant planes of differences that emerge from Francophone mothers’ stories are whether they came to Kingston as primary or as secondary migrants, their degree of fluency in English, and their affiliation with the military. These differences define each mother’s social power and inclusion, and her experiences of the institution of motherhood and its gendered imperatives. These differences also shape the degree to which the dominant structures of place in Kingston constrain mothers’ everyday geographies. Mothers ‘make do’ and ‘make with’ relationships and structures non-conducive to their mothering and linguistic needs, and they experience places as passages that facilitate or hinder the continuity of their particular projects and forms of being. Francophone institutions, although they can foster smoother passages for some mothers, also reinforce gendered roles around feminized social reproduction and cultural labour. Francophone mothers’ experiences of difference in Kingston, as migrants, mothers, and Francophones, shape the articulations of gendered norms and stories of motherhood, care and social reproduction, and cultural transmission in their lives, and how these norms and stories channel their subjectivities and possibilities.
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