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Empowerment of single mothers through biographical narrative in feminist social work


The article presents results of research on narratives of single mothers revealing the role of biographical method in social work. Biographical narrative is discussed as an empowerment strategy in the framework of critical and feminist social work. Biographical research together with biographical work are seen as opportunity to strengthen capacity and agency of women’s to control and change their life. The study refers to phenomenological perspective which is based on assumption that the social phenomenon is constructed by social actors through their everyday experience. The social reality is viewable through subjective perspective and interpretation of individual. 5 single mothers, women of 23-33 years old, took part in biographical interviews. Analysis of biographical narrative was made according to principles of interpretative phenomenological analysis. The authors employ concepts of biographical trajectory of suffering, biographical work and empowerment which are developed and used in critical social work. Analysis of biographical narratives of single mothers disclosed dramatical unexpected events and fateful decisions in women’s life-course which pushed them into social exclusion. At the same time biographical narrative allows to understand how single mothers interpret their life experience and how they find ways to overcome difficulties. This method allowed to see the search for coping strategies though the reconstruction of the past. For social work it is important to delineate social and internal factors of single mothers that help them to overcome hardships and social suffering. Three strategies of single motherhood are distinguished from results of the research: (a) self-victimization, (b) pragmatic approach and (c) strategy of self-expression. Women’s understanding of social identity and motherhood, personal characteristics and skills, values and strategies of coping with single motherhood help them to overcome difficulties. Women’s reflections on coping process revealed structures of social and emotional support: family, friends and social service agencies.


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