Single Mother

The Emergence of the Domestic Intellectual

267 pages

April, 2006

ISBN: 9780814742808



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Jane Juffer is Professor in the Department of English and the Program of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University. She is the author of three books: Intimacy Across Borders: Race, Religion, and Migration in the U.S. Midwest (2013); Single Mother: The Emergence of the Domestic Intellectual (NYU Press, 2006); and At Home with Pornography: Women, Sex, and Everyday Life (NYU Press, 1998).

All books by Jane Juffer

Long perceived as the ultimate symbol of social breakdown and sexual irresponsibility, the single mother is now, in the context of welfare-to-work policies, often hailed as the new spokesperson for hard work and self-sufficiency. A dozen years after Dan Quayle denounced the television character Murphy Brown for making the decision to become a single mother “just another lifestyle choice,” President George W. Bush applauded single mothers for “heroic work,” and positive on-screen representations of single mothers abound, from The Gilmore Girls to Sex and the City to American Idol.

Single Mother describes the recent cultural valorization of this figure that—in the midst of demographic changes in the U.S.—has emerged as the unlikely heroic and seductive voice of the new American family. Drawing on her own life as a single mother, interviews with dozens of other single mothers, cultural representations, and policies on welfare, immigration, childcare, and child custody, Juffer analyzes this contingent acceptance of single mothers. Finally, critiquing the relentless emphasis on self-sufficiency to the exclusion of community, Juffer shows the remarkable organizing skills of these new mothers of invention. At a moment when one-third of all babies are born to single moms, Single Mother is a fascinating and necessary examination of these new “domestic intellectuals.”


  • “Illuminating cultural study of single motherhood. . . . [Juffer] explores the experiences of single mothers across various social and economic conditions, taking a critical look at current social policy.”

    Library Journal

  • “Juffer points to a new formation—the domestic intellectual—and in that gesture opens up the concept of the intellectual to a more complicated theoretical engagement. With it, she re-imagines marriage, mothering, and the spatial dynamics of private life, and returns them to a possibly radical and liberatory space. This powerful and transformative work adds to our understanding of the value of learning from ordinary life.”

    —Wahneema Lubiano, Duke University