Iranian motherhood
: A cognitive approach

  • Mohaddeseh Ziyachi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The primary purpose of this study is to demonstrate the problematic status of motherhood in current Iranian society—particularly among young middle-class women—and to characterise the problematisation process of motherhood. My research shows that the concept of motherhood has turned into a controversial topic for thought and discussion, as evidenced by academic studies, public discourses, and individual conversations about motherhood.

My approach to motherhood mainly draws on a cognitive anthropological perspective and incorporates ethnographic, historical, and evolutionary viewpoints. I made a multi-methodological framework. I carried out ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observations and semi-structured interviews. I also employed my personal experiences, informal chats and observations with friends and relatives, secondary data from other studies, and historical evidence to support my ethnographic data.
My findings indicate that the cultural model of motherhood is organised by the concept of project among young middle-class women. This schema is reflected in three metaphors of strategy, trade-off and conditional. Moreover, I argue that this conceptualisation is connected to how middle-class women perceive children, father(hood), and parenthood.

Furthermore, I contend that three general-purpose schemas influence the cultural model of motherhood and its three complementing domains. The coexistence of the three schemas of familism, sociality, and individualism, as well as the conceptualisation of motherhood as a project, makes motherhood problematic
I also propose a causal explanation for the motherhood problematisation and the emergence and distribution of the aforementioned cultural schemas. Applying the epidemiology of representations approach, I assert that the current cultural model of motherhood is the product of ecological and psychological factors throughout Iran's history.

Finally, I argue that, while middle-class women and many lower-class individuals tend to accept the described cultural schemas, there are individual variations in how meanings are made of shared conceptions. Moreover, these expectations are not always fulfilled in reality.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 July 2024.
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPaulo Sousa (Supervisor) & Jonathan Lanman (Supervisor)


  • Cognitive anthropology
  • gender
  • motherhood
  • Iran

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