Chapter 9

New Intimacy, New Motherhood, Same Old Work?

Joanna Brewis

University of Leicester School of Management


During summer 2002, I ran a series of focus groups with eleven thirty-something professional women, all of whom are university graduates. We discussed their feelings about and aspirations for their careers and their personal lives, and the intersections and disjunctures between these ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres. The data were written up for publication in Urban Studies (Brewis, 2004). The chapter at hand is inspired by this analysis. It surveys the contemporary literature in these interlinked areas in order to provide a cutting edge review of claims around intimacy, motherhood, childlessness and work–life balance. I also employ data from a small longitudinal project involving six of the focus group respondents.1 These were gathered by email some six years after the original research. I include them to illustrate the significant changes each respondent has experienced in the interim – relocation, (impending) motherhood, a new relationship and/or a new job. This chapter to a lesser extent therefore continues the attempt in my 2004 paper at elucidating the social developments identified in the relevant literatures as they are actually lived out – or not – at the individual level.

I begin with the ‘new intimacy’ thesis, the argument that contemporary Western ideals as gradually emerging after the Second World War focus much less on some notion of ‘true ...

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