Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Robert Thompson


audience, engagement, interpretation, media effects, mother-daughter relationships, television

Subject Categories

Mass Communication | Women's Studies


This qualitative analysis examines audience engagement with fictional portrayals of mother-daughter relationships in prime-time television of the 21st century. I used in-depth interviews with women of different backgrounds to explore how real mothers and daughters interpret portrayals of mother-daughter relationships on television; how they make sense of their own mother-daughter relationships through their engagement with these portrayals; and how and to what extent their engagement with these portrayals influences their own lives and mother-daughter relationships.

The results of this study uncovered a process of audience engagement with mother-daughter relationships on television that involved the viewing experience, interpretation, sensemaking, and perceived effects on the participants' real lives and relationships. Throughout this process, female viewers of various backgrounds tended to evaluate the mother-daughter relationships on television using their own relationships as a standard; evaluate their own relationships using the TV relationships as a standard; and ultimately validate the value of their own mother-daughter relationships. As a fourth step in the process, those viewers who were most involved with and identified most strongly with the TV characters also acknowledged effects that their engagement with the shows has had on their lives and relationships. This study demonstrates the importance of studying women's engagement with mother-daughter relationships in media texts and further develops the literature on mother-daughter relationships in fields such as psychology, sociology, women's studies and family studies by bringing popular culture into the discussion.


Open Access