Anthropology Socio-Cultural Approaches to the Anthropology of Reproduction
by
Elise Andaya, Mounia El Kotni
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0197

Introduction

Attention to reproduction within anthropology emerged in early cross-cultural studies, largely descriptive and ethnomedical in nature, that examined reproduction in the context of cultural and religious beliefs around conception, childbirth and postpartum taboos, and knowledge about fertility regulation. However, the topic was given a new theoretical framing and disciplinary significance beginning in the 1980s when feminist scholars built on prior work on gender and kinship to articulate a new field of analysis that firmly situated reproduction at the nexus of power and politics. As Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp argued in their article, “The Politics of Reproduction” (Ginsburg and Rapp 1991, cited under Early Conceptual Frameworks and Edited Volumes) that demarcated this new field that they called the “politics of reproduction,” biological and social reproduction are inextricably intertwined. Social struggles over biological reproduction were also struggles over the reproduction of communities, states, and the shape of cultural futures. This insight provided a new theoretical language and analytic optic for future anthropological research. The field has flourished in the past three decades, with anthropologists drawing on cross-cultural data to demonstrate how reproduction is interwoven with culturally and historically specific ideals of gender and personhood, as well as beliefs about the morality and modernity of people and societies. From this breadth of research have emerged two primary, but not mutually exclusive, foci. The first builds from the early feminist critiques of the medicalization of pregnancy to examine experiences of pregnancy and birth, as well as the uptake and social effects of reproductive technologies, around the globe. The second analytical trajectory focuses on the politics of reproduction in the context of social inequality. Drawing on the concept of stratified reproduction, research in this arena examines policies, ideologies, and practices that work to devalue and discourage the reproductive capacities of groups of people deemed less desirable by virtue of race/ethnicity, class, nationality, religious or cultural practices, and so forth, while valorizing and enabling the reproduction of other groups. Newer work also employs the concept of reproductive governance to describe the centrality of reproduction to diverse moral, political, economic, and national agendas. Given the wealth of research in this field, including important work in qualitative sociology and biological anthropology, citations here refer to full-length ethnographic monographs or edited volumes by socio-cultural anthropologists (a few of which contain chapters written by anthropologists from other subdisciplines). Articles or edited book chapters have been included only if the work has been extremely influential, if there are few full-length monographs in the topical area, or if the author is influential but has not published a monograph. The field is also distinguished by a number of excellent edited book collections, which represent research from an array of authors and ethnographic locations. The anthropology of reproduction has significant overlap with the anthropology of motherhood/parenthood and the anthropology of childhood, which are not treated in depth here.

Early Conceptual Frameworks and Edited Volumes

The conceptual framework for the anthropology of reproduction was first articulated in Ginsburg and Rapp 1991 and elaborated in the introduction to Ginsburg and Rapp 1995. Colen 1995, a chapter in the volume, introduces the productive concept of “stratified reproduction.” Many of the scholars of the anthropology of reproduction are represented in the contemporaneous edited volumes of Franklin and Ragoné 1997 and Ragoné and Twine 2000, as well as in the later edited volume of Inhorn 2007. Strathern 1992 is also important in interrogating the reconfiguration of concepts of nature, culture, and kinship in the context of new reproductive technologies.

  • Colen, Shellee. 1995. Like a mother to them: Stratified reproduction and West Indian childcare workers and employers in New York City. In Conceiving the new world order: The global politics of reproduction. Edited by Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp, 78–102. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    The most influential article in an important edited volume, Colen develops the concept of stratified reproduction to describe the unequal valuing of women’s reproductive capacities.

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  • Franklin, Sarah, and Helena Ragoné, eds. 1997. Reproducing reproduction: Kinship, power, and technological innovation. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    An edited volume that elaborated the centrality of reproduction as an analytical lens onto a broad array of processes, including abortion, prenatal screening, and adoption.

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  • Ginsburg, Faye, and Rayna Rapp. 1991. The politics of reproduction. Annual Review of Anthropology 20:311–343.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.20.100191.001523Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A pioneering argument about the centrality of reproduction to social theory and a review of contemporaneous research.

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  • Ginsburg, Faye, and Rayna Rapp, eds. 1995. Conceiving the new world order: The global politics of reproduction. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A landmark early edited volume that elaborates on the politics of reproduction as a key analytical framework and presents ethnographic research from around the world.

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  • Inhorn, Marcia, ed. 2007. Reproductive disruptions: Gender, technology, and biopolitics in the new millennium. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    Chapters draw ethnographic research conducted by a number of prominent anthropologists in different global sites and examine local concerns and responses to “reproductive disruptions,” such as abortion, infertility, prenatal genetic testing, and assisted reproduction. A good overview of then-current state of the field.

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  • Ragoné, Helena, and Frances Winddance Twine, eds. 2000. Ideologies and technologies of motherhood: Race, class, sexuality, nationalism. New York: Routledge.

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    An edited volume with a range of early ethnographic studies of ideologies of mothering in the context of cross-racial adoption, infertility, child loss, and the new reproductive technologies.

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  • Strathern, Marilyn. 1992. Reproducing the future: Anthropology, kinship, and the new reproductive technologies. New York: Routledge.

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    An analysis of the legislative debates around artificial reproductive techniques in Britain, interrogating assumed boundaries between nature/culture and underscoring the centrality of reproduction to culture.

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Critiques of the Medicalization of Reproduction

Early research in the anthropology of reproduction was rooted in the feminist critique of the medicalization of pregnancy and birth. Davis-Floyd 1992 and Martin 1987 trace the devaluation of women’s expertise and embodied experiences of pregnancy and birth as these became increasingly medicalized and subject to oversight and intervention by a masculinized medical institution. Jordan 1993 and Davis-Floyd and Sargent 1997 draw on cross-cultural studies to compare women’s experiences within other birth systems with the devaluation of women’s embodied knowledge under biomedical birth. Morgan and Michaels 1999 examines how the prevalence of medical technologies such as ultrasound has contributed to the increasing cultural prominence of the fetal subject.

  • Davis-Floyd, Robbie. 1992. Birth as an American rite of passage. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Written by an influential anthropologist with strong connections to midwifery, this important analysis examines biomedical birth in the United States as a gendered ritual that articulates with core American values and gender ideologies.

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  • Davis-Floyd, Robbie, and Carolyn Sargent, eds. 1997. Childbirth and authoritative knowledge: Cross-cultural perspectives. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    An edited collection that examines how different kinds of knowledge are legitimized or rendered illegitimate in different birth practices and birthing systems around the world. The chapter by Bridgette Jordan introduces the framing concept of authoritative knowledge.

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  • Jordan, Brigitte. 1993. Birth in four cultures: A cross-cultural investigation of childbirth in Yucatan, Holland, Sweden, and the United States. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

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    This seminal analysis compares birthing systems in the United States, Sweden, Holland, and Yucatan, Mexico, to highlight childbirth and birthing knowledge, as deeply cultural events.

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  • Martin, Emily. 1987. The woman in the body: A cultural analysis of reproduction. Boston: Beacon.

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    An influential feminist ethnography that examines compares dominant medical perspectives on menstruation, menopause, and birth with those of women from different social classes. A key argument highlights the negative effects of framing women’s reproductive capacities and experiences through the economic lens of productivity.

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  • Morgan, Lynn, and Meredith Michaels, eds. 1999. Fetal subjects, feminist positions. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    An interdisciplinary edited collection that examines how the expansion of medical technologies, such as ultrasound, have set the stage for the increasing cultural importance of the fetal subject, with implications for abortion politics and reproductive rights.

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Pregnancy and Prenatal Care in North America

Building on works cited under Critiques of the Medicalization of Reproduction, a number of studies focus on pregnancy and prenatal care in the United States and Canada. Han 2013 examines the everyday experience of pregnancy in North America, a topic on which there is relatively little work in anthropology. Bourgeault, et al. 2004 and MacDonald 2008 trace continuity and changes in midwifery care, with Craven 2013 paying particular attention to the intersection between the midwifery model of care and reproductive rights. Mitchell 2001 and Taylor 2008 provide an analysis of how the routinization of imaging technologies in prenatal care have shaped the politics and experiences of reproduction in the United States, while Wendland 2007 argues that appeals to “evidence-based medicine” in justifying the prevalence of caesarian sections overlooks how such data is shaped by culture. Oaks 2001 examines shifting perceptions of risk and fetal protection in prenatal care in her analysis of public health discourse and attitudes toward women who smoke during pregnancy. Bridges 2011 and Gálvez 2011 underscore public prenatal care as a site of racialization where racial stereotypes often shape care and justify heightened medical surveillance of women of color.

  • Bridges, Khiara. 2011. Reproducing race: An ethnography of pregnancy as a site of racialization. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520268944.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines how racialized assumptions about Medicaid-covered women shapes public prenatal care in the United States, perpetuating racial stereotypes and contributing to the marginalization of poor women of color.

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  • Bourgeault, Ivy Lynn, Cecilia Benoit, and Robbie Davis-Floyd, eds. 2004. Reconceiving midwifery. Montreal: McGill Univ. Press.

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    An edited volume that examines the renaissance of the midwifery model of care in Canada in light of the historical and political challenges faced by the profession.

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  • Craven, Christa. 2013. Pushing for midwives: Homebirth mothers and the reproductive rights movement. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

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    A landmark ethnography on the intersections between demands for legal access to homebirth and women’s reproductive rights activism in the United States amidst race and class prejudice.

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  • Gálvez, Alyshia. 2011. Patient citizens, immigrant mothers: Mexican women, public prenatal care, and the birth weight paradox. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    An ethnographic examination of the Latina birth weight paradox, following Mexican immigrant women in their prenatal encounters in the United States and their families in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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  • Han, Sallie. 2013. Pregnancy in practice: Expectation and experience in the contemporary US. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    An ethnography of everyday experiences of pregnancy. Examines pregnancy as a social event and the new cultural birth practices generated through careful attention to material culture.

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  • Macdonald, Margaret. 2008. At work in the field of birth: Midwifery narratives of nature, tradition, and home. Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ. Press.

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    Analyzes the challenges to homebirth and midwifery practices after midwifery was integrated into the formal healthcare system in Ontario, Canada. Questions the meanings of tradition and the place of medical technologies in this new context.

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  • Mitchell, Lisa. 2001. Baby’s first picture: Fetal ultrasound and the politics of fetal subjects. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

    DOI: 10.3138/9781442671140Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Provides a critical perspective on the creation of the fetal subject through ultrasound screenings in Canada, and the political implications of the new “fetal reality” mitigated through technology.

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  • Oaks, Laury. 2001. Smoking and pregnancy: The politics of fetal protection. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Traces how smoking during pregnancy was constructed both as a public health concern and a social problem. Provides a nuanced approach to health campaigns focusing on individual behaviors by considering women’s daily lives and struggles.

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  • Taylor, Janelle. 2008. The public life of the fetal sonogram: Technology, consumption, and the politics of reproduction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Examines how fetal images have entered into the consumer market and, in so doing, solidified cultural ideas of fetal personhood and shaped experiences of pregnancy. Includes a short history of the use of ultrasound and analysis of ultrasound as gendered practice.

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  • Wendland, Claire. 2007. The vanishing mother: Caesarian section and “evidence-based obstetrics.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 21.2: 218–233.

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    Provides an important critique of “evidence-based” obstetrics and decision-making around caesarian sections, arguing that apparently objective data justifying caesarian sections are, in fact, influenced by cultural ideologies around technology, risk, and birth in which the birthing woman herself disappears.

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Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Midwifery in Global Contexts

Building on Jordan 1993 (cited under Critiques of the Medicalization of Reproduction), anthropologists have paid close attention to the biosocial phenomena of childbirth around the world. Research both elaborates on the cultural specificities of experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as demonstrating how rapidly globalizing practices around prenatal care are shaped by local contexts. A number of studies also examine how state interventions into reproduction and reproductive practices are tied to projects of modernity. For clarity, this section is organized first by edited volumes and then by geographic region.

Edited Volumes

Browner and Sargent 2011 provides a comprehensive comparison of research on reproduction at a global scale. Fordyce and Maraesa 2012 examines the differential understandings of risk in relation to childbirth in various global sites, while McCourt 2010 examines how time is perceived and managed in relation to childbirth. Selin 2009 focuses on interactions between women and providers in pregnancy and childbirth.

  • Browner, Carole, and Carolyn Sargent, eds. 2011. Reproduction, globalization, and the state: New theoretical and ethnographic perspectives. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    A collection of essays based on research in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Western Europe. As a whole the volume contributes to the anthropology of reproduction and of globalization, combining local ethnographic findings with analyses of the global economic and political context.

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  • Fordyce, Lauren, and Aminata Maraesa, eds. 2012. Risk, reproduction, and narratives of experience. Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ. Press.

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    Interrogates how biomedical discourses of risk influence women’s reproductive experiences and providers’ decisions about care. Contributions include studies from the United States, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Ghana, Tanzania, and China.

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  • McCourt, Christine, ed. 2010. Childbirth, midwifery, and concepts of time. New York: Berghahn.

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    In this edited volume, anthropologists and midwives use the lens of time to analyze childbirth and biomedical practices. Attention is given to time management in birth, and the power differential between women and health professionals in this context.

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  • Selin, Helaine, ed. 2009. Childbirth across cultures: Ideas and practices of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum. New York: Springer.

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    With contributions from all continents, this edited volume interrogates the power differential between different sets of actors involved in the decision-making process in pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.

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Latin America

Research in Latin America has been particularly concerned with changing prenatal practices and state interventions into reproduction. Andaya 2014 examines how reproduction is tied to state projects of revolution and modernization in Cuba. Cosminsky 2016 and Berry 2011 examine the medicalization of prenatal care in Guatemala, highlighting how experiences of pregnancy and prenatal care are stratified by class and race/ethnicity. Smith-Oka 2013 focuses on state oversight over pregnancy and policies that constrain the poor in Mexico.

  • Andaya, Elise. 2014. Conceiving Cuba: Reproduction, women and the state in the Post-Soviet era. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    An ethnography of the intimate decisions and public debates around women’s reproduction in Cuba. With chapters on prenatal care and abortion, as well as changing gender roles, it examines the centrality of reproduction to the Cuban state.

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  • Berry, Nicole. 2011. Unsafe motherhood: Mayan maternal mortality and subjectivity in postwar Guatemala. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    Analyzes the local implications of global maternal health policies in Sololá, Guatemala; analyzes how biomedical staff, indigenous families, and midwives relate to maternal mortality.

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  • Cosminsky, Sheila. 2016. Midwives and mothers: The medicalization of childbirth on a Guatemalan plantation. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    Covers four decades of work with Maya midwives, their daughters, and mothers in rural Guatemala amidst the increasing medicalization of childbirth practices. Highlights the persistence of midwives’ practices, and how class, gender, and race inform relationships between biomedical health personnel, finca owners, midwives, and mothers.

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  • Smith-Oka, Vania. 2013. Shaping the motherhood of indigenous Mexico. Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ. Press.

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    Analyzes the unintended consequences of the maternal branch of Mexico’s cash-conditional transfer program. Highlights the paradoxes of policies that control poor and indigenous women’s reproduction while simultaneously calling for their empowerment.

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Europe

There are few full-length monographs on pregnancy and childbirth in Europe. Georges 2008 is a notable exception, examining the transformation of prenatal care in Greece from midwifery to medicalization.

  • Georges, Eugenia. 2008. Bodies of knowledge: The medicalization of reproduction in Greece. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

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    Focuses on the high rates of ultrasound use in Greece as a lens onto the biomedicalization of prenatal care in Greece and the decline of long-standing traditions of midwifery. Highlights how global practices of prenatal care are selectively interpreted in local contexts.

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Africa

Research in African contexts has focused particularly on local ideas of risk as they pertain to decisions about reproduction and reproductive behaviors. Chapman 2010 examines the reasons that women choose to avoid or attend prenatal care in Mozambique. Roth Allen 2004 explores local understandings of prenatal and obstetric risk in Tanzania, while Sargent 1989, although now dated, provides useful research on factors shaping reproductive decision-making in Benin.

  • Chapman, Rachel. 2010. Family secrets: Risking reproduction in central Mozambique. Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ. Press.

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    Examines the social constraints shaping women’s decisions to attend or avoid free prenatal care in Mozambique, as well as the factors leading to the commodification of women’s reproduction.

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  • Roth Allen, Denise. 2004. Managing motherhood, managing risk: Fertility and danger in west central Tanzania. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    Provides rich ethnographic data on the local implementations of global maternal health policies, and how women’s understanding of risk in pregnancy and childbirth in rural Tanzania is shaped by the legacy of colonialism.

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  • Sargent, Carolyn. 1989. Maternity, medicine and power: Reproductive decisions in urban Benin. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A major ethnography on the medicalization of childbirth in Benin, comparing urban and rural settings. Provides important insight on the multiple factors influencing women’s reproductive decisions.

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Asia and the Pacific

Laderman 1983 is one of the earliest monographs on childbirth in Asia, providing useful information on rapidly changing beliefs and practices around pregnancy and childbirth in Malaysia. Lukere and Jolly 2002 examines the effects of colonialism and state projects of modernization on birth practices in the Pacific, while van Hollen 2003 demonstrates how biomedical models of childbirth intertwine with existing practices in India to become locally distinct forms of modern birth. Ivry 2010 is an example of an explicitly cross-cultural analysis, comparing local understandings of pregnancy, prenatal risk, and birth practices in Japan and Israel.

  • Ivry, Tsipy. 2010. Embodying culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Compares local cultural practices and ideologies around pregnancy and prenatal care in Japan and Israel and explores relations between local reproductive politics, medical models of pregnancy care, and modes of maternal agency.

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  • Laderman, Carol. 1983. Wives and midwives: Childbirth and nutrition in rural Malaysia. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Provides ethnographic descriptions of beliefs and behaviors on food, nutrition, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, contextualized within changing birth practices.

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  • Lukere, Vicki, and Margaret Jolly. 2002. Birthing in the Pacific: Beyond tradition and modernity. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press.

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    Based on case studies from Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga, this edited volume interrogates the continuities and changes in women’s birth practices given the ongoing influence of colonial practices.

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  • Van Hollen, Cecilia. 2003. Birth on the threshold: Childbirth and modernity in south India. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Examines changes in contemporary birth practices through the lens of women’s birth experiences in Tamil Nadu, India. Analyzes the relationship between cultural beliefs, government programs, and international health policies in shaping women’s reproductive experiences.

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Fertility: Contraception, Menstruation, and Family Planning

Research in this section encompasses ethnographies of fertility and reproductive strategies, family planning and contraceptive use, and a few studies of menstruation. Africanist anthropology is particularly well-represented, with Amal Hassan 2007, Bledsoe 2002, and Johnson-Hanks 2006 examining the intersection between social expectations of fertility and local concepts of motherhood, womanhood, and honor. Brunson 2016 focuses on the intersection between local reproductive desires and the goals of state family planning programs, and López 2008 and Maternowska 2006 highlight the, at times, repressive potential of state-sponsored family planning programs for “high-fertility” populations. Russell, et al. 2000 and, more recently, Sanabria 2016 provide some of the few ethnographic works on contraception. The work on male perspectives on family planning is small; these references can be found in the section Male, Gay and Lesbian, and Transgender/Genderqueer Experiences of Reproduction. The literature specifically on menstruation is also sparse; Buckley and Gottlieb 1988 and van de Walle and Renne 2001 are two of the few cross-cultural analyses of beliefs around menstruation.

  • Amal Hassan, Fadlal. 2007. Embodying honor: Fertility, foreignness, and regeneration in eastern Sudan. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    Explores the social, economic, and cultural challenges women face in Sudan to achieve motherhood, especially of sons, as well as reproductive decision-making in the context of local understandings of motherhood, gender, and honor.

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  • Bledsoe, Caroline. 2002. Contingent lives: Fertility, time, and aging in west Africa. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226058504.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Highlights the dynamics of child spacing through women’s reproductive choices and use of contraceptives in rural Gambia. Contrasts Western and West African views on time and aging.

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  • Brunson, Jan. 2016. Planning families in Nepal: Global and local projects of reproduction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Explores how Nepalese women negotiate global messages of family planning with local desires to produce a son, making explicit the various political, religious and cultural constraints under which “planning” takes place.

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  • Buckley, Thomas, and Alma Gottlieb, eds. 1988. Blood magic: The anthropology of menstruation. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A pioneer work that questions the universality of the menstrual taboo. The various ethnographic contributions analyze menstruation and menstrual customs, and allow for cross-cultural comparisons on several continents.

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  • Johnson-Hanks, Jennifer. 2006. Uncertain honor: Modern motherhood in an African crisis. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    An ethnography of demographic trends, focusing on women’s decision to delay motherhood in Cameroon, in a context of changing educational, religious, and professional opportunities.

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  • López, Iris. 2008. Matters of choice: Puerto Rican women’s struggle for reproductive freedom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Contextualizes women’s decisions to seek sterilization and high rates of this practice in Puerto Rico within deeply classed and racialized social, historical, economic, and political contexts.

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  • Maternowska, Catherine. 2006. Reproducing inequities: Poverty and the politics of population in Haiti. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    An ethnography of the underlying mechanisms of family planning programs and reproductive decision-making in Haiti. Highlights the intersections of poverty, gender inequality, and structural violence in contraceptive policies.

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  • Russell, Andrew, Elisa Sobo, and Mary Thompson, eds. 2000. Contraception across cultures: Technologies, choices, constraints. London: Berg.

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    An edited volume exploring contraceptive use in Mexico, Haiti, Israel, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and Tonga. Chapters focus on both users and providers to discuss the social and cultural context in which reproductive decisions are made.

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  • Sanabria, Emilia. 2016. Plastic bodies: Sex hormones and menstrual suppression in Brazil. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822374190Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Takes the phenomenon of menstrual suppression in Brazil as a starting point to examine the social lives of contraceptive hormones and how users and medical professionals perceive hormonal contraception. A theoretical ethnography that interrogates notions of bodily plasticity and control.

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  • van de Walle, Etienne, and Elisha Renne. 2001. Regulating menstruation: Beliefs, practices, interpretations. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    An overview of menstrual beliefs and practices of regulation in different countries. Analysis is primarily through a global health approach, but contains chapters of interest to anthropologists.

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Breastfeeding

A limited body of work in the anthropology of reproduction has also considered the often-polarized issues around breastfeeding. Tomori 2014 examines debates about nighttime breastfeeding and sleep strategies in the United States, and Faircloth 2013 explores the centrality of extended breastfeeding to ideologies of gender and intensive motherhood in the United Kingdom and in France. The edited volume of Tomori, et al. 2018 draws on archaeology, sociocultural anthropology, and biological anthropology to examine the meanings and practices of breastfeeding across time and space.

  • Faircloth, Charlotte. 2013. Militant lactivism? Attachment parenting and intensive motherhood in the UK and France. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    Follows women who breastfeed for extensive periods—typically two to three years—to argue that infant feeding practices have become central to deeply moralized arguments about parenting and identity.

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  • Tomori, Cecília. 2014. Nighttime breastfeeding: An American cultural dilemma. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    Analyzes nighttime breastfeeding and the strategies that parents implement to navigate cultural and medical tensions and contradictions.

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  • Tomori, Cecília, Aunchalee Palmquist, and EA Quinn, eds. 2018. Breastfeeding: New anthropological approaches. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    An inter-subdisciplinary collection that draws together chapters from sociocultural anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology to trace the evolutionary, historical, and sociocultural contexts of breastfeeding.

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In Vitro Fertilization and Surrogacy

There is a relatively large and growing body of research on assisted reproductive technologies, particularly in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy. Early accounts focused on the cultural meanings assigned to artificial reproductive techniques (ARTs), primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom. Franklin 1997 and Ragoné 1994 are important contributions that examined the implications of ARTs for ideologies and practices of kinship, as well as concerns about the commodification of reproduction. More recent work has expanded to examine how experiences and uptake of ARTs in non-Western contexts are shaped by local configurations of religious, gender, class, and racial/ethnic identity. Ethnographic research includes work in Israel (Kahn 2000), Ecuador (Roberts 2012), the Middle East (Inhorn 2015), India (Bharadwa 2016), and Thailand (Whittaker 2015). Research on surrogacy has also moved into non-Western contexts, although it remains limited. Teman 2010 examines surrogacy in Israel, while Deomampo 2016 and Pande 2014 explore commercial surrogacy in India, highlighting the reproduction of race, class, gender, and national inequalities in transnational quests for fertility. Although research on IVF and surrogacy often includes information on policies and practices around gamete donation, there is as yet no full-length ethnographic monograph specifically on gamete donation in anthropology.

  • Bharadwa, Aditya. 2016. Conceptions: Infertility and procreative technologies in India. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    Traces religious, cultural, and biomedical ideologies and practices around (in)fertility and conception in India and examines how these shape couples’ fertility struggles and clinical encounters. The introduction includes an excellent overview of the anthropological literature on infertility and reproductive technologies.

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  • Deomampo, Daisy. 2016. Transnational reproduction: Race, kin, and commercial surrogacy in India. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Draws on interviews with surrogates, commissioning parents, egg donors, and medical professionals to examine how these different groups conceptualize the processes of making kin, as well as the racial inequalities that underlie the market in transnational surrogacy.

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  • Franklin, Sarah. 1997. Embodied progress: A cultural account of assisted reproduction. New York: Routledge.

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    An influential early account of the cultural effects of IVF based on research in the United Kingdom, examining how women frame the technology within narratives of progress despite its low success rates.

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  • Kahn, Susan. 2000. Reproducing Jews: A cultural account of assisted reproduction in Israel. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Investigating a state in which Jewish women can draw on state-subsidized fertility treatments, Kahn examines cultural concerns around the reproduction of Jews in Israel and debates about the transmission of “Jewish” identity in the context of gamete donation.

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  • Inhorn, Marcia. 2015. Cosmopolitan conceptions: IVF sojourns in global Dubai. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822375357Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Builds on the author’s previous research on infertility and assisted reproduction in the Middle East. Interviews with a diverse group of couples who have traveled to Dubai’s global IVF hub highlight their countries’ lack of attention to reproductive needs and the need for broader forms of advocacy to support women and men’s desire for children.

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  • Pande, Amrita. 2014. Wombs in labor: Transnational commercial surrogacy in India. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.7312/pand16990Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The first ethnography examining commercial surrogacy and its intersection with wider labor markets and inequality in India. Contextualizes findings that surrogates and their agents actively choose to engage in commercial reproductive labor within broader structures that constrain these choices.

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  • Ragoné, Helena. 1994. Surrogate motherhood: Conception in the heart. New York: Routledge.

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    An important early study on surrogacy that draws on research with gestational surrogates and commissioning parents in the United States to examine the reconfiguration of cultural ideologies and beliefs about kinship, parenthood, and nurturance in the context of gestational surrogacy.

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  • Roberts, Elizabeth. 2012. God’s laboratory: Assisted reproduction in the Andes. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    The first monograph to examine ART use in Latin America. Draws on interviews and observation with IVF patients and practitioners in Ecuador to challenge Western assumptions about the separation of science and religion, as well as how the procedure shapes and is shaped by local conceptions of gender, kinship, race, and ethnicity.

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  • Teman, Elly. 2010. Birthing a Mother: The surrogate body and the pregnant self. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520259638.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Provides a close analysis of the practices and meanings of surrogacy in pronatalist Israel, highlighting the discursive and material ways that surrogates symbolically distance themselves from the fetus that they are carrying, seeing their work instead as bringing intended mothers into being as maternal subjects.

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  • Whittaker, Andrea. 2015. Thai in vitro: Gender, culture, and assisted reproduction. Oxford: Berghahn.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9qd9h7Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines how access to IVF is mediated by class position in Thailand and how local moral sensitivities shape the practices and meanings of the procedure

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Infertility and Reproductive Loss

The anthropological research focused specifically on experiences of infertility and reproductive loss is rather small, especially compared with the literature on reproductive technologies. The edited collections Cecil 1996 and Inhorn and van Bollen 2002 provide cross-cultural research on local meanings and experiences of infertility and pregnancy loss and the ways these intersect with cultural beliefs around gender and personhood. Scheper-Hughes 1992, on infant death in northeastern Brazil, is now a classic in anthropology. Mullings and Wali 2001 analyzes infant mortality rates in Harlem, New York, as a symptom of social stress, while Pinto 2008 examines experiences of infant death in areas of India where public health efforts have focused on promoting smaller families through contraception rather than on maternal-infant health services. In Africa, Savelsburg 1999 highlights both fears around infertility in the Cameroon grassfields and the global lack of attention to the consequences of infertility in areas of the world designated “over fertile.” The pioneering work Layne 2002, on miscarriage in the United States, remains one of the few ethnographies focused on the United States.

  • Cecil, Rosanne, ed. 1996. Anthropology of pregnancy loss: Comparative studies in miscarriage, stillbirth, and neo-natal death. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    An edited volume that brings together cross-cultural analyses of rituals and responses to pregnancy loss from around the world.

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  • Inhorn, Marcia, and Frank van Bollen, eds. 2002. Infertility around the globe: New thinking in childlessness, gender, and reproductive technologies. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A cross-cultural collection that examines the local meanings and global impact of infertility and its gendered consequences, as well as the uptake of new reproductive technologies in non-Western countries.

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  • Layne, Linda. 2002. Motherhood lost: A feminist account of pregnancy loss in America. New York: Routledge.

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    A path-breaking ethnography that interweaves interviews and the author’s personal experiences with miscarriage with feminist analysis to examine the silence and stigma often associated with pregnancy loss in the United States.

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  • Mullings, Leith, and Alaka Wali. 2001. Stress and resilience: The social context of reproduction in central Harlem. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4615-1369-8Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An important contribution to the literature on the effects of social stress and structural racism on birth outcomes and infant mortality based on interdisciplinary team study in Harlem, New York. A summary of key finding appears in Leith Mullings, “Resistance and Resilience: The Sojourner Syndrome and the Social Context of Reproduction in Central Harlem.” Transforming Anthropology 13.2 (2008): 79–81.

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  • Pinto, Sarah. 2008. Where there is no midwife: Birth and loss in rural India. Oxford: Berghahn.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9qd8vmSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes women’s experiences of birth and infant death in Uttar Pradesh, India, and the contradictions that arise as development efforts focus on contraceptive efforts while access to maternal health services remains poor.

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  • Savelsburg, Pamela. 1999. Plundered kitchens, empty wombs: Threatened reproduction and identity in the Cameroon grassfields. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.16324Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analyzes fears around infertility in the high fertility region of the Cameroon grassfields as articulations of larger threats to social and familial wellbeing, as well as concerns about shifting gender and ethnic relationships, in the context of broader political-economic change.

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  • Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1992. Death without weeping: The violence of everyday life in Brazil. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A now-classic ethnography conducted in the favelas of northeastern Brazil, examining how extreme poverty, gender inequality, and local Catholic practices shape women’s experience of, and strategies for coping with, high rates of infant and child death.

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Abortion

Ethnographies addressing abortion as the primary research topic are still relatively limited, although it is at times discussed in ethnographies examining prenatal care or genetic testing. In the United States, Ginsburg 1989 pioneers anthropological research on the social debates around abortion. In Europe, Mishtal 2015 explores religious and political debates around abortion in Poland, Paxson 2004 examines abortion in the context of shifting ideas of responsible motherhood, while Singer 2017 and Ostrach 2017 focus on women’s access to abortion in Mexico and Spain, respectively. While not explicitly about abortion, cross-cultural and inter-subdisciplinary work such as Morgan 2009 and Han, et al. 2017 usefully historicize and problematize ideas of the fetus as a stable and knowable entity, as well as assumptions of fetal personhood. Andaya and Mishtal 2017 provides an overview of anthropological research on abortion in the context of abortion politics in the United States.

Adoption

While adoption has been relatively well-studied in other social sciences, it still constitutes an emerging field within the anthropology of reproduction. Leinaweaver 2008 explores ways in which decisions to adopt are interrelated with desires for biological and cultural reproduction, while Kim 2010, Marre and Briggs 2009, and Volkman 2005 focus on transnational adoption and the circulation of children beyond national borders. Oaks 2016 examines safe haven laws in the context of limited access to contraception and abortion.

  • Kim, Eleana. 2010 Adopted territory: Transnational Korean adoptees and the politics of belonging. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822392668Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Situates adoption in South Korea at the intersection of national political interests and global politics of humanitarianism, paying close attention to the construction of adoptee identity in the United States and in Korea.

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  • Leinaweaver, Jessaca. 2008. The circulation of children: Adoption, kinship, and morality in Andean Peru. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822391500Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An ethnography of the informal circulation in which poor indigenous children are adopted into wealthier families in Ayacucho, a practice considered illegal by Peruvian laws. Life stories highlight the complexities of strategies of giving and adopting.

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  • Marre, Diana, and Laura Briggs, eds. 2009. International adoption: Global inequalities and the circulation of children. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    An edited collection based on research in sending and receiving countries, providing a critical appraisal of the circulation of children in the context of global inequalities.

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  • Oaks, Laury. 2016. Giving up baby: Safe haven laws, motherhood, and reproductive justice. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Interrogates the consequences of safe haven laws, presented as a solution to unwanted pregnancies. Critically analyzes such laws in regards to state laws on sexual education, contraception and abortion access.

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  • Volkman, Toby, ed. 2005. Cultures of transnational adoption. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Analyzes the shift from closed international adoption toward cultures of transnational adoption, as well as the expectation that adoptees reconnect with their country and culture of birth.

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Prenatal Genetic Testing

Anthropological research into reproductive technologies has also addressed questions of prenatal screening, contextualizing this within national and international disability politics, beliefs around risk and quality of life, and the limits of scientific knowledge. Problematizing popular conceptions of prenatal screening technologies as an unmitigated good, Browner and Press 1995, Rapp 1999, and Gammeltoft 2014 underscore the multiple conceptions of risk and the profound moral dilemmas as women and families are forced to decide whether to continue or to end an affected pregnancy. Birenbaum-Carmeli and Inhorn 2009 examines how the interpretation and uptake of artificial reproductive techniques and genetic testing practices shape and are shaped by local contexts. Landsman 2008 provides an important analysis of the experience of mothering children with disabilities in a cultural context where prenatal genetic screening has become a routinized and expected part of prenatal care.

  • Birenbaum-Carmeli, Daphne, and Marcia Inhorn. 2009. Assisting reproduction, testing genes: Global encounters with the new biotechnologies. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    A useful edited collection that brings together cross-cultural research on assisted reproduction and genetic testing, highlighting how the uptake of these technologies is shaped by local context.

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  • Browner, Carol, and Nancy Press. 1995. The normalization of prenatal diagnostic screening. In Conceiving the new world order: The global politics of reproduction. Edited by Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp, 307–322. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A book chapter that examines the routinization of prenatal diagnostic screening as part of prenatal care, exploring both women’s perceptions of this intervention as well as the reasons for extending screening services to all women. This is one of several articles and chapters by Browner and Press on women’s acceptance and/or refusal of prenatal testing, including research specifically on Latina populations.

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  • Gammeltoft, Tine. 2014. Haunting images: A cultural account of selective reproduction in Vietnam. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520278424.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A rich and moving study that follows women and families diagnosed with “abnormal” fetuses in Hanoi, Vietnam, to examine the complex processes of reproductive decision-making and national belonging.

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  • Landsman, Gail. 2008. Reconstructing motherhood and disability in the age of “perfect” children. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203891902Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Brings together the anthropology of reproduction and disability studies to examine how mothers of children with newly diagnosed disabilities engage and reconfigure American beliefs around “choice” and “normality” in the context of new reproductive technologies.

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  • Rapp, Rayna. 1999. Testing women, testing the fetus: The social impact of amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge.

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    Now a classic, this is the first full ethnographic study of the social impact of prenatal genetic testing in the in genetic laboratories, genetic counseling sessions, and among families with children with disabilities. Develops the concept of women as “moral pioneers” in genetic technologies.

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Male, Gay and Lesbian, and Transgender/Genderqueer Experiences of Reproduction

Although the anthropology of reproduction has almost exclusively focused on cisgender heterosexual women, a small body of research has examined male, gay and lesbian, and transgender experiences. Gutmann 2007 focuses on the intersection between local reproductive desires and the goals of state family planning programs, while Inhorn 2012 draws on research among infertile couples to challenge stereotypes of masculinity in the Middle East. Reed 2005 and Inhorn, et al. 2009 examine men’s participation in reproductive decision-making from contraception to childbirth, while Dudgeon and Inhorn 2004 provides an overview of male influence over women’s reproductive rights and decisions. Research on reproductive experiences of gay and lesbian and transgender/genderqueer individuals is still sparse: Lewin 1993 provides an early study of lesbian experiences of reproduction, while Walks 2015 explores the topic of transmen’s reproductive experiences.

  • Dudgeon, Matthew, and Marcia Inhorn. 2004. Men’s influences on women’s reproductive health: Medical anthropological perspectives. Social Science and Medicine 59.7: 1379–1395.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.11.035Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An overview of the medical anthropology literature investigating men and women’s reproductive rights, and the effect of male partner on women’s reproductive health.

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  • Gutmann, Matthew. 2007. Fixing men: Sex, birth control and AIDS in Mexico. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    One of the few ethnographies of reproduction to focus on men’s attitudes toward, and use of, contraceptives. Analyzes the personal, political and moral reasons behind Mexican men’s decisions around family planning.

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  • Inhorn, Marcia. 2012. The new Arab man: Emergent masculinities, technologies, and Islam in the Middle East. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Based on research in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates among couples seeking fertility treatments, these interviews with men about infertility and intimacy challenge stereotypes of Arab men and hegemonic masculinity.

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  • Inhorn, Marcia, Tine Tjørnhøj-Thomse, Helene Goldberg, and Maruska Mosegaard la Cour, eds. 2009. Reconceiving the second sex: Men, masculinity, and reproduction. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    An edited collection examining men’s role in reproduction cross-culturally. Explores topics such as sexuality, manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, contraception, and childbirth.

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  • Lewin, Ellen. 1993. Lesbian mothers: Accounts of gender in American culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Written before lesbian and gay parenting became more mainstream, this pioneering research focuses on experiences of relationships, reproduction, and parenting among lesbians in San Francisco.

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  • Reed, Richard. 2005. Birthing fathers: The transformation of men in American rites of birth. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    An exploration of men’s role in, and experience of, childbirth in the United States. Drawing on men’s accounts, it also highlights shifting definitions and expectations of fatherhood.

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  • Walks, Michelle. 2015. Masculine pregnancy: Butch lesbians, trans men’s and genderqueer individuals’ experiences. In Natal signs: Cultural representations of pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Edited by Nadya Burton, 41–57. Bradford, ON: Demeter.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1rrd8tc.6Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Part of a small but emergent literature on transgender and genderqueer experiences of reproduction, focusing on people who identify as masculine or male.

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State Interventions into Reproduction: Policies and Practices

Fertility and its control are not just of concern to individual women and their families. Local, national, and international governing bodies also seek to influence reproductive practice, through both policy and coercion. While research on the centrality of reproduction to state policies and politics predates their publication, the concept of reproductive governance introduced in Morgan and Roberts 2012 provides a guiding theoretical framework and terminology. Greenhalgh 2008, Tarlo 2003, and Kligman 1998 focus directly on the role of the state in managing reproduction through interventions designed to shape the size and “quality” of the population. Krause 2005 explores concerns around low fertility and reproductive decision-making in Italy, while Kanaaneh 2002 examines Palestinian reproductive strategies in a context in which Arab reproduction is often seen as undesirable. Knight 2015 and Sufrin 2017 provide valuable ethnographic insights into state attempts to intervene into the reproduction and reproductive outcomes of drug-addicted and incarcerated mothers. Such analyses highlight the centrality of reproduction to classed, gendered, and racialized ideologies of nationalism, modernity, and morality, as how women, families, and communities engage, adapt, and resist state policies.

  • Greenhalgh, Susan. 2008. Just one child: Science and policy in Deng’s China. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520253384.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Takes an anthropological approach to reproductive policy to trace how the scientific “rationalization” of social and political life in China under President Deng led to China’s one child policy.

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  • Kanaaneh, Rhoda. 2002. Birthing the nation: Strategies of Palestinian women in Israel. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Examines strategies of reproduction, as well as changing notions of family and sexuality, among Palestinians living in Israel, where reproduction is often framed as a political act that strengthens the Palestinian nation.

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  • Kligman, Gail. 1998. The politics of duplicity: Controlling reproduction in Ceausescu’s Romania. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    An important study demonstrating how reproduction became central to socialist Romania’s national demographic and political agenda. Draws on interviews with women and physicians to examine the toll of extreme pronatalist policies on the physical and psychological well-being of both women and men, as well as the relations between them.

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  • Knight, Kelly Ray. 2015. Addicted. Pregnant. Poor. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822375180Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A richly ethnographic study of addicted pregnant women in gentrifying San Francisco as they move from the street to the clinic, jail, and family court, struggling to navigate their desire to stay clean in the context of pregnancy and motherhood and the need to engage in the underground drug and sex economy.

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  • Krause, Elizabeth. 2005. A crisis of births: Population politics and family-making in Italy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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    An anthropological study of Italy’s declining fertility, including analysis of media and political accounts that tie fertility to nationalism and interviews with women about reproductive decision-making.

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  • Morgan, Lynn, and Elizabeth Roberts. 2012. Reproductive governance in Latin America. Anthropology and Medicine 19.2: 241–254.

    DOI: 10.1080/13648470.2012.675046Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Introduces the concept of reproductive governance as a theoretical framework to understand the centrality of reproduction to diverse moral, economic, and political regimes of nation-states.

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  • Sufrin, Carolyn. 2017. Jailcare: Finding the safety net for women behind bars. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Draws on the author’s ethnographic and clinical expertise as anthropologist and a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist. Explores how jail can become a safety net for pregnant women who are often struggling with violence, addiction, poverty, and the large-scale effects of racism.

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  • Tarlo, Emma. 2003. Unsettling memories: Narratives of the emergency in Delhi. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Uses personal narratives and archival material to document how policies of slum reform under Indian president Indira Gandhi was tied to sterilization of the poor.

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