Accepted Paper:

Technologies of Motherhood - defining maternal and infant health in Cape Town  


Nanna Schneidermann (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

Technology appears as central ordering devices for experiences of pregnancy and birth for mothers and birth practitioners in the city of Cape Town. Through technologies of motherhood users seek to place themselves in relation to (post-)colonial ideas about urban modernity.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the role of medical and everyday technologies in relation to pregnancy and birth, from public health SMS text messages to ultrasound scans to forceps to cesarean sections. The use of these technologies of motherhood has come to define and characterize differences between the private health care sector, the public clinics, and alternative birth practitioners in Cape Town. They are used, taken for granted, aspired for and resisted. They are enacted in multiple and at times mutually exclusive ways; as means to managing different forms of risk, as interventions that are risky in themselves, as luxury commodities, as alienating and dangerous. But they are central to choices, practices and experiences of pregnancy and birth, and reflect and engage processes of commodification of health services in South Africa, but also (post-)colonial intersections of status, power, wealth and modernity.

Based on 9 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Cape Town, the paper argues that technologies of motherhood make pregnancy and birth into political events in a city characterized by economic, social and ethnic inequality. In tying technologies of motherhood with ideas of urban modernity and affluence, their use come to signify particular forms of belonging and morality. Mapping out different approaches to technologies of motherhood tells stories of women's attempts to place themselves as good mothers in relation to urban modernity and a changing state. In short, technologies used in pregnancy and birth become the contested grounds upon which good health and motherhood is predicated in Cape Town.

Panel P145
African Women Interpreting and Redefining Public Health in late 20th and early 21st century Africa