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Mothers in the city

This project explores the spatial dynamics of mothers in Johannesburg: how mothers navigate their and their families' daily lives in Johannesburg; the challenges and obstacles that they face; their routes, supports and efforts that typify their lives. Mothers, through their own multifaceted roles, and through the care and provision of their children, intersect and use the city in an intensive and demanding variety of ways. In some cases these activities are all confined within a single neighbourhood but most often mothers are accessing these needs and resources across many areas of the city. Due to the nature of motherhood as both a relationship of care and a role constructed in society, the burdens that mothers carry in unequal urban conditions are financial, temporal and emotional. Exploring the spatial geographies of the ‘muthahood’ provides valuable insights into a group of people who engage the city extensively (far more than the ‘traditional’ suburban construct) and understanding these spatial dynamics exposes the depth of spatial inequalities and poor urban management in new ways.

The research shows that the spatial injustices of the past as well as new inequalities in the city impact the everyday movements and practices of women as well as the choice of home, work and school in the city. In addition, the spatial practices of mothers are influenced by a form of moral geography, which, when overlaid on current spatial inequalities in Johannesburg, result in compromises and sacrifices for both mother and child. Thus in many ways, constructing a hostile and difficult space, which mothers are forced to navigate and sometimes transgress, social, spatial and legal boundaries using a variety of spatial and social tactics in order to survive and assure the best for their families.

This research proposal is informed by a pilot study that was conducted in 2014 and 2015. The study examined the everyday practices and experiences of 25 mothers in the city, who agreed to in-depth interviews and mapping exercises. This has been written up as an occasional paper.

The pilot study provided valuable insights into the lives of these diverse group of women and also highlighted some important aspects that need to be accommodated in a larger study.

2018 will see the project move into a second phase with a larger sample to expand the research and insights of the project.

Originally conceived by Yasmeen Dinath at the Johannesburg Development Agency, the project is a partnership with Dinath and Dr Margot Rubin at SARCHi in Spatial Analysis and City Planning.


Occasional Paper

Alexandra Parker and Margot Rubin (2017) 'Motherhood in Johannesburg: Mapping the experiences and moral geographies of women and their children in the city'. SA & CP GCRO Occasional Paper no.11, November 2017.

Map of the month

Alexandra Parker and Margot Rubin (2017) Spatial footprints of mothers in Johannesburg, GCRO Map of the month, November 2017.


Parker, A. (2018) 'Mothers in motion: mums navigate cities with their kids’ needs in mind', The Conversation Africa, 17 April 2018.


Alexandra Parker and Margot Rubin (April 2017) 'The Moral Geographies of Mothers in Greater Johannesburg'. Faces of the City Seminar Series. Wits University, 25 April 2017.

Last updated: 11 May 2018


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