Award Date

12-1-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Anthropology

First Committee Member

William Jankowiak

Second Committee Member

Peter Gray

Third Committee Member

Jiemin Bao

Fourth Committee Member

David Dickens

Number of Pages

165

Abstract

Heeding Sherry Ortner’s call to turn anthropological analysis inward, toward one’s own culture, the following dissertation seeks to understand the identity and practice of the voluntarily childless (hereafter “childfree”) movement in the United States. How do these individuals practice their identity, and how does the identity of “childfree” interact with other roles in their lives? How do they build meaning in a society that emphasizes children as a hallmark of adulthood? What other outlets do childfree individuals have for the “nurturing” tendencies of our species?

Combining sociohistoric analysis with identity and feminist theories, I embarked on nearly two years of participant observations in social media communities dedicated to the discussion and sharing of the childfree life. Additionally, regular analysis of online essays and

media sources, as well as 30 semi-structured interviews provided deeper insight into the daily lives of these individuals. Despite media claims that the childfree choice is unique to white, heterosexual, middle-class women, the population I found included men and women of various ethnicities, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic groups. Likewise, combining literature and online observations, it appears this is a population that is cross-culturally significant.

Situated in the postmodern era with the rapid idea sharing of social media, I argue that the transition from childfree lifestyle to childfree identity is a symptom of the broader identity politics common in a world connected at the speed of thought. The resulting dissertation

provides a description of the conversation between the childfree and the dominant voice of parents, highlighting the rise of a new, parallel norm of choice. Accordingly, the struggle over identity definitions appear to be causing a schismatic fracturing of the community as the population increases.

Ultimately, Setting the Childless Free is about individuals who, in most cases, are otherwise well-adjusted members of their culture who have chosen a different path regarding parenthood. The chapters contained herein investigate how this choice has impacted their

interactions with family, religion, work, and their greater communities. Through the use of polyvocality, I share the emic perspective in an effort to provide a broader understanding of this new norm is sought.

Keywords

childfree; childless by choice; ethnography; identity; social movements

Disciplines

Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology

Language

English

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