Woman Reiger, Kerreen M (1946 - )

Moreland, Victoria, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne with Kerreen Reiger

Kerreen Reiger is a leader in sociology and in Australian Women's Studies. Her research and theoretical work has contributed to social history, biography, and critical social policy and health services analysis.

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Moreland in 1946, she was the first child of Moira and Warwick White who had married towards the end of WW2. Her childhood was spent initially in North Fitzroy, then in Kew East where the family expanded with the birth of a sister then a brother. Reiger attended St Anne's Catholic primary school until Grade 5, before moving to Kilmaire College in Hawthorn for most of her secondary schooling. A financial crisis in the context of the 1961 credit squeeze, forced the family to move house and Reiger completed her final year at Ringwood High School, matriculating in 1963. She then undertook a BA Honours at the University of Melbourne, majoring in history and politics and graduating in 1968. After working as research assistant to Professor Weston Bate on the history of Ballarat, Reiger moved to the new La Trobe University to commence postgraduate study in 1970. She was awarded an MA for her course work and her thesis, Communal aspects of an urban parish: a study of "Holy Trinity" in 1972. In order to develop her emerging intellectual interests in urban development and the impact of modernity on community and familial relationships, she moved into the rapidly expanding field of sociology. Postgraduate studies in the late 1960s were a heady mix of politics and passions, and it was not an easy transition. Apart from attending anti Vietnam War demonstrations as observational fieldwork, active political engagement was not on her agenda.

She had married Arthur Reiger, with whom she had been at high school and the University of Melbourne, in 1969 in an inter-church ceremony, and they soon became active in the ecumenical movement that followed the second Vatican council. Reiger's academic career was subsumed to some extent by marriage and motherhood. Her first daughter was born in late 1970, just as she was working on her MA thesis. She went on to have her first son in 1973, and, post-PhD, another son and daughter. By 1972-1973 she was working in the new field of Youth Studies, editing a bibliography, and from 1975, teaching Sociology at the then Preston, later Phillip Institute of Technology ('PIT', now part of the RMIT University). Until taking up a lectureship at La Trobe University in 1989, Reiger was engaged in developing health sociology for nursing students as their education moved into the tertiary sector from hospitals and working with other students preparing for professional careers. She found it a stimulating intellectual time, especially being located in a School of Social Work in which political debates were lively, and working with a highly productive group of colleagues.

Teaching at PIT and research for a joint history and sociology doctorate at La Trobe in these years shaped Reiger's core intellectual interests in critical social theory and in feminism in particular. She was awarded her PhD from La Trobe University in 1983 for her thesis The disenchantment of the home: the rationalization of domestic life in Victoria 1880-1940. Subsequently published by Oxford University Press in 1985, it made a significant contribution to the emerging fields of social history and critical analysis of the impact of the new middle class of the twentieth century, especially on the lives and work of women in the household. Reiger's oral history expertise lead to several other publications and her interest in maternity care became central to her sociological research and political roles.

In 1989 Reiger moved back to La Trobe University and took up an appointment as a Senior Lecturer in Sociology with specialist teaching in gender and family and in social policy. In the 1990s a marriage break- up, remarriage to Keith Sandford in 1993 and ongoing health problems (diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) limited her research. Her political community activism around childbirth increased however. She was a founding member of the advocacy organisation, the Maternity Coalition, and later its president, laying the basis for interest in public participation in health services and policy. Reiger's scholarly work then broadened through the late 1990s to health policy research once the intense research and writing of her second major book, Our Bodies Our Babies (2001) eased. This book both reflected and contributed to her community role in women's health care, as it analysed the social movement for humanising maternity care. Its core argument concerning the neglect of childbirth politics by mainstream second wave feminism, has remained a theme in her work. For some commentators this positions her as a 'maternalist feminist', an overly simplistic categorisation however. Other work has included research on the impact of new managerialism on maternal child health nurses' work and identity; the professionalisation of midwifery in Australia and internationally; migration of health workers; organisational change in maternity hospitals and the impact of marketisation and the 'audit culture' on university work. Her book Family economy was published in 1991.

Reiger was for many years a significant supporter of the interdisciplinary Women Studies program at La Trobe University, and, as its Director in the early 2000s, implemented the change to the innovative Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Program. She was promoted to Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences in 2003 and to an appointment as a Visiting Professor in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's University, Belfast, from 2007-2012. As well as publishing many academic journal articles, Reiger has contributed to public inquiries and debate concerning the health professions and maternity service provision. Her longstanding commitment to consumer advocacy in women's health care has expanded to interest in broader questions of public participation, informed citizenship, and quality improvement in healthcare. She is a consumer member of the Australian College of Midwives, a member of the Victorian Healthcare Quality Association, the Australian Institute of Patient and Family-Centred Care, and a new consumer and research-focused organisation, Childbirth Australia.

After many years' of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, Reiger retired from her appointment as Associate Professor in Sociology to allow more time for research, writing, travel, and family and community commitments in late 2010. Post-'retirement' projects include oral history research for the Australian Generations project, a biography of an international childbirth reformer, Professor Murray Enkin, and activist work in human rights and childbirth. The multiple strands of historical scholarship, critical theory, and feminist thought which have shaped her teaching and research career, have also reflected her personal experiences, especially as a mother, step-mother and, lately, grandmother. Her core intellectual concerns-from the 'rationalisation' of the home to the impact of new and oppressive forms of technical rationality in 21st century institutions-are also political. Most significantly in terms of her past career in higher education, her recent writing concerns the declining capacity of universities to nurture the critical and interdisciplinary thinking that have been central to her scholarship.

Additional sources: Personal communication between Kerreen M. Reiger and Sharon M. Harrison, August 2013.

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