Learning the Culture of Natural Family Living through Participation in an Online Community of Practice

Pinkerton, Carolyn M., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Hoffman, Diane, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Burbach, Harold, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Moon, Tonya, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Spreen, Carol, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

The purpose of this study was to examine how mothers participate in an online community, MotheringDotCommunity (MDC), to learn the culture of natural family living (NFL) through an ethnographic case study. Natural family living (NFL) is a lifestyle that promotes holistic well-being. Families focus on nurturing their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Attachment parenting (AP) is part of NFL. In AP, parents quickly and consistently respond to their children's needs in order to promote a strong parent-child attachment; this involves practices such as always responding to a child's cries, keeping children within close proximity, and practicing gentle discipline. MDC is an online forum where women can both provide and receive information and support regarding NFL. Data were collected through daily online observations of MDC, archived messages, and interviews with 12 MDC participants. In addition, four MDC member profiles were created in order to highlight the learning process and patterns of activity that occur within the online community. Data were analyzed using the framework of communities of practice, the idea that people learn a practice by interacting within a community. The findings revealed three major themes: (1) by creating and sharing information and receiving community support, MDC members are empowered and encouraged to challenge institutions, (2) through their participation at MDC, women both learn and adapt their identities as NFL mothers, and (3) MDC serves different roles for different members; for some members, MDC is a community of practice, while for others, the forum solely serves as an information resource.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
natural family living, case study, mothers, online forum
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