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Vol. 1 No. 2 (2021): Subject, Otherness and Uncertainty

The representation of motherhood in detention: an emotional analysis

December 12, 2021


This case study explores the representation of motherhood during detention in an Italian alternative detention facility - Protected family home - where mothers are detained with their children. The exploration comes from 14 interviews with coordinators, educators, social workers, and volunteers of this organization. The collected textual corpus was analyzed with Emotional Textual Analysis (ETA), which is a psychoanalytically informed method of text and discourse analysis. ETA hypothesizes that emotions expressed in language are a fundamental organizer of relationships and that the set of shared affective symbolizations of the context (Local Culture) can be read from the narratives collected through interviews. The text analysis is performed by a software that breaks down the semantic associations and organizes the words into clusters. The cluster interpretation is conducted by the clinician in a way reminiscent of free associations. The analysis detected five clusters shaping the local culture of this protected family home: project on paper (1); small/big dynamic (2); detained motherhood (3); fantasized vs reality (4); the unknown outside (5). To identify the emotional organization of the cultural space, we observed the graphic arrangement of the clusters on a factorial level, the position that the clusters assumed within the axes, and therefore the relationships that exist between them. During the restitution, the results obtained, and some interpretative hypotheses, were proposed as a starting point for shared reflection and re-elaboration with all the possible interlocutors of this work.