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Cambridge Reproduction


My doctoral research will focus on cinematic representations of domestic and reproductive labour, the force that ‘keeps the world moving’. Through close analysis of films directed by Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay, Sean Baker and Ken Loach, I will argue that the depiction of motherhood as a form of work is especially suited to the formal and stylistic conventions of social realism. Through their sustained engagement with this subject, these filmmakers invite active ethical and political engagement with motherhood as an ‘institution’ (to borrow Adrienne Rich’s term).

My research will examine how cinema’s technological ability to reproduce the image of human bodies in motion, or ‘life’ on screen, replicates the generative labour of biological and social reproduction carried about by the mothers. I will explore how the distinctive temporality of the cinematic mode of representation provides a unique opportunity to interrogate motherhood, social reproduction and domestic labour. As Vivian Sobchack has observed, the momentum of the cinematic is intimately bound to a structure of ‘accumulation, ephemerality, presentness and anticipation- to a present informed by its connection to a collective past and an expansive future’. Unlike the atemporality and stasis of the photographic system of representation, the moving-image simply ‘has more to do with life’.

This is especially true of the films I intend to examine. Situated in the social realist tradition, these films reject the standard narrative economy and dedicate considerable filmic time to everyday scenes of existence or what Giorgio Agamben has termed ‘bare life’. I will propose that this kind of temporality closely resembles the ontology and lived experience of motherhood, as it is continually called upon to sustain, endure and reproduce biological existence. The moving-image’s persistent state of ‘coming-into-being’ means that spectators are always looking forward, in constant anticipation of the future as it is about to unfold on screen. This desire to possess or understand the future before it has happened mirrors the considerable public interest and anxiety around fertility, pregnancy and child-rearing. The figure of the mother bears the immense political and ethical weight of concerns about futurity and social order.