Anticipating the transition to parenthood: the contribution of Foucaultian discourse analysis to understanding life-course patterns



Existing analyses of life-course transitions tend to take either an institutional or an agency perspective. The aim of this paper is to show how a discourse analytical approach might contribute to bridging the gap between the two perspectives and thereby broaden our understanding of life-course trajectories. To do this, it presents an empirical study that looks at how young Swiss adults anticipate the transition to parenthood. The findings show that young adults are confronted with conflicting and opposing norms concerning parenthood. On the one hand, there is the idea of free choice as to whether and when to have a child. On the other hand, there exist persisting societal prescriptions that govern who may legitimately become a parent. Whoever does not fulfil the required conditions – the discourse suggests – should not have children. The discourse perspective thus brings to the fore what counts as shared knowledge in a particular place and at a particular historical moment. It indicates how the social construction of the transition to parenthood forges particular life-course trajectories.