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"Motherhood", "the family" and Murphy Brown : New Zealanders' receptions of an American sitcom text

This interdisciplinary study examines the role of American entertainment television in the social construction of 'motherhood' and 'the family' in New Zealand. It investigates how differently positioned viewers made sense of, and responded to, a particularly controversial episode of the American sitcom Murphy Brown. It also assesses the extent to which this programme was able to 'set the agenda' for discursive understandings of 'motherhood' and 'the family' in contemporary New Zealand society. Drawing on various insights derived from poststructuralist theory and audience reception studies, the first aspect of this tri-partite investigation examines the macro context of this episode's production in the United States in 1992, and identifies competing constructions of 'motherhood' and 'the family' circulating within that wider environment. The representation of these debates within the text itself is then assessed through an analysis of its narrative structure and discursive content. The second aspect of this project outlines the macro context in which this episode was broadcast in New Zealand, and identifies competing understandings of 'motherhood' and 'the family' in this country. The third aspect comprises a reception analysis in which in-depth individual interviews were used to explore participants' interpretations of this American sitcom text and their responses to its propositional content around 'motherhood', 'the family' and Murphy Brown. Twenty-two adults from a range of backgrounds participated in this qualitative audience research. On the basis of this research, it is argued that this particular American television programme and viewers in this country both play an active part in defining the social meaning of 'motherhood' and 'the family' in contemporary New Zealand. While such texts clearly work to establish certain parameters for audience receptions of their content, both cultural location and social group membership(s) provide New Zealand viewers with access to experiences, knowledges and discourses of the wider social world that potentially enable them to renegotiate and even reject the privileged meanings of American entertainment programming.
Type of thesis
Michelle, C. (1998). ‘Motherhood’, ‘the family’ and Murphy Brown : New Zealanders’ receptions of an American sitcom text (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9685
University of Waikato
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