As a colleague and friend, I was delighted to receive the offer from Anne to co-write a chapter for this volume. It has been an opportunity to participate in a longitudinal study of three generations of women’s lives, exploring memory, storytelling and social change. It has involved dialogue and meditation on how faith, spirituality, schooling, gender interweave to produce subjectivities and identities. One strand of my research has explored women’s lives and the significant and largely invisible maternal labour involved in resourcing and supporting their children’s education through their experience of homework. Anne’s study investigates another dimension of women’s lives rarely discussed, the relationships between mothering and faith, and illustrates the power of longitudinal, ethnographic studies to show nuanced changes over time.
My involvement with Anne’s data through numerous conversations, collaborative analysis and co-writing revisited the personal and intimate stories of these Catholic women shared with Anne over many years. Our conversations were extensive and exhilarating, simultaneously poignant, hilarious, confronting, confounding, challenging, profound. Threaded throughout the women’s narratives are tensions and anxieties around choices made by these mothers over generations, regarding their daughters’ education and the articulation and questioning of deeply held religious and spiritual beliefs, shifting and evolving through generations. This blend of historical narratives, stories of everyday life, feminist theology, personal beliefs about mothering and education and articulation of religious and spiritual values combine to offer unique perspectives on school choice, as gendered and deeply emotional work.
This analysis of maternal histories of Catholic schooling makes visible the pedagogies of everyday life that shape decisions about education and schooling that are not often discussed, and is informed by an understanding of ‘research subjects whose inner worlds cannot be understood without knowledge of their experiences in the world, and whose experiences of the world cannot be understood without knowledge of the way in which the inner worlds allow them to experience the outer world’ (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000, p.5).
As Bourdieu reminds us, in conditions of proximity, where the object of study is the researcher’s own worlds, the research process must involve conscious exploration of researchers’ dispositions, coupled with a methodology which invites participants to scrutinise interpretations and contribute to their representations as objects of study (Bourdieu, 1990). This chapter is an example of the power of reflexive research methodology and analysis, enabled through the collaboration between myself as ‘outsider’ and Anne, researching her own intimate family worlds over three generations of mothers and daughters and their experiences of mothering, education, faith and spirituality.