Tracy Morison, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the Human and Social Development Research Program and Honorary Research Associate in the Psychology Department at Rhodes University in South Africa, recently passed on an interesting Master’s thesis to me. Julia Moore’s thesis for her Master’s in Communications at San Diego State University examined the childfree in an area that has grown dramatically in the last several years: online childfree communities. The thesis is titled… “Constructing Childfree Identities Online Through the Lens of Feminist Poststructuralism,” and provides insight into the childfree segments of the online LiveJournal community. It examines how people who participate in these online communities come to identify as childfree, and how they communicate in this type of online context. Ms. Moore’s research asked the question: “How do members of LiveJournal communities discursively construct childfree identities?” She gathered data by reading 445 posts on a wide variety of topics that had an average of 29 comments, and interviewing 24 members of the childfree LiveJournal communities. From her research she describes three processes involved in constructing childfree identities: “(a) becoming childfree, (b) negotiating childfreedom, and (c) enacting childfreedom.” With regards to “becoming childfree,” Moore explains: “The interview data revealed that all participants had unique stories about how and when they made the choice to never have children. In contrast to previous literature on the topic of voluntary childlessness, the participants in this study fell onto a continuum of manifestations of choice between (a) a conscious decision and (b) a realization.
Most voluntarily childless individuals outside of LiveJournal may fall within this continuum; however, a second occurrence that allows individuals to become childfree is the moment of awakening, where individuals who never want to have children realize that the name ‘childfree’ exists to describe them….for most participants, they knew they never wanted to have children before they knew the word ‘childfree’ existed.” She defines “negotiating childfreedom” as “the process of communicating who is in the in-group and out-group, both outside of and within childfree people” and how individuals “negotiate their identity within pronatalist discourses,” and “within childfree discourses.” Moore’s analysis presents four separate yet interconnected processes that contribute to the negotiation of childfree identities: defining the self and others, revealing “ideological underpinnings” (such as reproductive rights), “expressing degrees of <childfree> identification,” and experiencing “organizational splintering” (such as the how Cf_hardcore and Cf_schmooze groups split into their own factions).
The “enacting childfreedom” process involves “(a) enacting online,” where members communicate “their own experiences and interpretations of being childfree with each other, thereby solidifying childfree collectiveness” and “(b) enacting offline,” which includes a variety of communications with the ultimate goal of “promoting reproductive consciousness” to “non-childfree” people. Moore’s thesis examines how these three processes overlap and occur simultaneously as part of an “ongoing process of constructing the self” – in this case, the childfree self-identity. Read the thesis in full and give hats off to Ms. Moore. She helps us more deeply understand childfree online communities, how the childfree use them, and their role in the evolution of societal acceptance of the childfree choice.