Title page for ETD etd-12052009-020034

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Engelen-Eigles, Deborah A.
URN etd-12052009-020034
Title The social construction of diapers as a consumer issue :an application of feminist sociological theory
Degree Master of Science
Department Housing, Interior Design, and Resource Management
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Lytton, Ruth H. Committee Chair
Allen, Katherine R. Committee Member
Hillery, George A. Jr. Committee Member
  • Women consumers
Date of Defense 1991-04-05
Availability restricted

This study draws on Dorothy Smith's feminist sociological theory and methodology to propose an alternative way of conceptualizing and conducting inquiry into consumer issues. The application of this approach is then illustrated using the subject of diapers.

Qualitative interviews were conducted with six mothers of children in diapers and with three institutional users of diapers: a home care provider, child care center administrator, and hospital nursery administrator. In addition, documents produced by various institutions (diaper laundering services, diaper manufacturers, environmental groups) as well as press accounts of the issue were collected.

Analysis reveals a divergence between the themes present in mothers' narratives and those in media accounts of the subject. What is considered knowledge about diapering, however, is based on the texts of experts, not on mothers' everyday experiences. Many factors that shape and limit mothers' diapering options, including the products on the market, geographic location, finances, the child's size and sensitivity to certain products, or the need to secure the cooperation of partners and child care providers, are seldom acknowledged in the diaper "debate."

The findings have implications both for academics and for practitioners. In research, feminist perspectives contribute to a more complete understanding of consumer and sociological problems than could be gained solely through more traditional approaches. Likewise, consumer and other advocates' work would benefit from more nuanced approaches that can better accommodate the diversity of individuals' concerns and experiences and that reflect the realities of their daily lives.

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