Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global and Sociocultural Studies

First Advisor's Name

Vrushali Patil

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Alexandra Cornelius

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Jean Muteba Rahier

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Benjamin Smith

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


black middle class, single mothers, black women, women, material culture, consumption, identity, class, motherhood

Date of Defense



This dissertation explores the ways in which black single mothers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area use material goods and consumption practices to inform their identities as members of the middle class. Black middle class women are challenging stereotypes surrounding single mother households, the idea of family, and class status in the United States, as more women overall are having children while single, delaying or deciding against marriage, and are entering the middle and upper-middle classes as a result of advanced education and career opportunities. Because of these demographic and sociocultural shifts, the romanticized “nuclear family” which consists of a married heterosexual couple and their children is becoming less authoritative as a symbol of middle class status. Instead, the middle class is represented through lifestyle options such as home ownership, neighborhood selection, fashion choices, education, and leisure activities. In the Washington, DC metro area, black women are asserting their single status while employing strategies to raise their children and excel professionally in order to maintain a middle class lifestyle.

In this dissertation I examine black women, who are both single mothers and nonpoor, as an understudied, but constructive group in the DC metro area. Through ethnographic field research, I explored their experiences in the home, workplace, and greater community by employing a mixed methods approach including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and focus groups. I demonstrate the ways material goods and experiences shape their complex identifies against and in support of various stereotypes. This research is unique in its focus on the black middle class from a new perspective and contributes to scholarly literatures on class and identity formation, black womanhood and motherhood, and material culture.





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