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November 14: The Anthropology of Reproduction (Guest Lecturer)

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ANTH 3330
Christianne Stephens

THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF REPRODUCTION • covers more than just biomedicine • the anthropology of reproduction explore stns octal, culture, and political complexities involve in human reproduction in contemporary and historical worlds • powerful institutions within society such as biomedicine, law, and politics also shape the way people imagine and manage their reproductive lives, as do global economic an development trends • extended families can support lots of the children, but migration puts a damper on having many kids, as well as the availability of birth control Why was attention to reproduction in anthropology so limited in the past? • Malinowski and the Trobriand Islands, talked to men • that was what anthropology was until the 1970s • higher education was largely an endeavour undertaken by men • required an adventurous spirit, hardship, masculine hero thing • Malinowski was interested in reproduction in a way: kinship ◦ kinship historically is much more important in terms of power than it is today ◦ interested in how people reckoned their families ◦ except for the wealthy family, average families have very little political influence ◦ when families were larger, societies simpler, power and economics more based on family, kinship was interesting to anthropologists ◦ practical barrier: he’s a man, talking to other man, never going to get a first hand of pregnancy or childbirth, or newborn care, probably because men weren’t that involved ◦ reproduction was women’s business, had a lot expertise, and men got their information got the shallow information ◦ getting second-hand accounts, or not getting well- informed accounts whatsoever ◦ about decorum, can a man go around ask someone else about their pregnancy and birth experiences; involves the body, affluence, breast-feeding, and related to the topic of sexuality ◦ Malinowski and male anthropologists were not always permitted to broach that topic, which was often very intimate • assumed that reproduction was natural, not cultural, that it was animalistic, happened everywhere the same, sexual intercourse, gestation of the fetus, birth, and breastfeeding was not cultural but human beings at their most natural, and management of it was according to a natural process ◦ there are great differences in how we give meaning to the different stages of pregnancy, who can provide care, etc • not until the late 1970s that we have accounts of birth • only when something was exotic and exceptional that reproduction was interesting What set the stage for an increased interest in reproduction? • women entering anthropology in greater numbers in the 1970s ◦ wanted to start introducing a missing part of anthropology, that being women’s lives, which include childbirth, child-rearing, etc. • the infusion of feminist and critical perspectives ◦ era of women’s liberation ◦ people have such negative connotations with the term feminism ▪ really just the equality between men and women ◦ male bias in anthropology ▪ some of it was practical, but on the other hand that women’s work was not interesting and not what was important in society • the rise of medical anthropology as a sub-discipline ◦ gave anthropology of reproduction a home, study of something that falls under health, healing, management of the body • feminist critique of medicalized childbirth in the west ◦ at this time, starting in the 1970s, women in N America and Euorpe, comfortable, middle class women, became critical of stander hospital and medical treatment in childbirth ◦ medicalization: biomedicine and science increases its domain all the time ▪ covers things that are part of the lifecycle: birth, life, death ▪ menopause, an end of a woman’s fertile years is now considered a medical problem that ought to be fixed, but it’s just a part of life ▪ how far do we need our lives to be medicalized? ▪ Cesarian rates in some regions of Canada are 30% ◦ it’s not that we don’t want medicine, but that we want to hold the reins a little bit, to decide when it’s necessary and when it’s not • concern about the profound impact on “traditional societies” of the global spread of Western medicine ◦ saw that people were managing birth very well, something a woman could be proud of, could do it with dignity, something that you did rather than something that was done to you ◦ compared their experience of giving birth with what they saw in other places ◦ some traditional societies do it better Anthropology of midwifery and childbirth • the essential difference between childbirth in American and childbirth in Merchang is clear: American women are delivered by obstetricians; Merchang women give birth” (Laderman 1983:173) • the act of giving birth to a child is never simply a psychological act, but rather a performance defined by and enacted within a cultural context (Romalis 1981:6) ◦ squatting is better for childbirth because it uses gravity, and opens the pelvis more, putting less stress on the vaginal walls and the child ◦ however, lying down is better for doctors and hospitals ◦ cascade of interventions that problematizes labour ◦ in some places women have managed to preserve the dignity and frankly the rational approach to birth • the first intervention is that the women is hooked up and can’t walk around • women who’ve had negative experiences with this were concerned • the management of childbirth in hospitals is entirely controlled • the school, the prison, and the hospital architecture and management comes out of the same period of time ◦ how institutions all discipline our bodies ◦ teach us from a young age teach us how to behave ◦ how are schools a proper way to teach people when they sit in silence with a teacher at the front facing them The medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth • “Women’s bodies have been scientifically constructed as essentially faulty; their reproductive bodies are potentially dangerous to babies; child rebirth as so fraught with danger as to be unthinkable” (MacDonald 2007:95) • victorian gender ideology of women as frail, incompetent to be experts, always needing advice • scientific tradition, everything should be timed, this phase happens, then that phase happens ◦ when one of those things aren’t the same it has to be managed more efficiently • reproduction is a relatively recent term to describ
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