Education & Social Work

PhD Thesis : Parenthood as Othering

Subjectivation of dual-employed couples as 'parents of a child with disabilities’

Dual-employed couples whose child is categorised as 'disabled' are studied through the analysis of couple narratives and work-sharing arrangements. The investigation focuses on gendered division of labour and care work as well as on cultural knowledge and discourses that affect recognisability and subjectivation. Overall, the study provides insights into social processes that contribute to these couples being perceived as 'other' or 'special' parents.

Dual Employment and Parenthood of a Child with Disabilities    

The dissertation study investigates dual employed couples whose child is categorised as 'disabled'. Through their dual employment, these couples work against still dominant attribution, according to which in heterosexual partnerships the diagnosed 'disability' of a child is accompanied by female care work and male gainful employment.

Couple Arrangements and Subjectivation

Based on biographical-narrative interviews with couples and individuals, this study reconstructs dynamics of couple arrangements in their respective couple history and interactive dynamics. It becomes clear that these partnership models must be asserted in the face of different forms of resistance. Social barriers have an intersectional effect along the lines of difference between disability and gender. They become invisible, however, by shifting into the private sphere, within which they must be answered by work-sharing arrangements based on partnership. The reconstructions also refer, in the course of a deepening by subjectivation theory, to the powerful subjectivation as 'parents of a child with a disability' or simply 'special parents'.

Recognition and Acknowledgment – Subjectivation as ‘special Parents’

The couples are primarily addressed as 'special parents', which in turn refers to specific 'norms of recognisability' as such: As 'parents of a child with disabilities', the couples become on the one hand recognisable and acknowledgeable through processes of 'specialness', which are institutionalized for example in the health-care system. On the other hand, gendered dynamics of the allocation of practical and emotional 'care and coping work' ensure the recognisability as the 'special parent subject'. The presented results reconstruct a 'specific' form of subjectivation, but also show the general inequality of the structures implied in these, as heterosexual couple relationships become visible against the background of increased emotional and practical everyday demands.

Who is involved in this project?

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Kultur- Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät


  • Prof. Dr. Lisa Pfahl (Universität Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck, Professor for Disability Studies and Inclusive Education)
  • Prof. Dr Bettina Völter (Rector of the Alice Salomon Hochschule Berlin. Professor of Social Work Theory and Methods)
  • Prof. Dr. Christine Wimbauer (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Professor for Soziologie der Arbeit und der Geschlechterverhältnisse)


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