Author:Efua Prah (Stellenbosch University)
Paper short abstract:
Through an analysis of South African women’s narratives of pregnancy and birthing, this paper explores the changing female body, the birthing journey. Pregnancy is used as a locus to further understand the changing dimensions of identity, belonging and personhood.
Paper long abstract:
Within the annals of contemporary ethnographic research on the body, the subject of pregnancy and birthing is barely visible, however, the various narratives of women traversing - some for the first time - into physical, emotional and transcendental spaces is abundant. This paper aims to explore such journeys as South African women transform their bodies into vessels through which life emerges. Central to this aim is to contribute to an anthropological platform that seeks to better understand gender dynamics, culture, society, belonging and personhood. Central to the argument made is an understanding that the body interpenetrates and interacts with the environment in ways that create multiple meanings. Bodies are understood as producers and products of space, time and materiality, weaving and assembling daily practices that create and perpetuate meaning. I will draw on Thomas Csordas' (1990) idea of embodiment that was largely influenced by the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu and signalled a move away from understanding the body as a subject on which things happen, to a focus on the essentiality of "being in the world" I also draw on Cecilia McCallum's ethnography of Cashinahua (Huni Kuin) people from Brazil and the Peruvian Amazonia where the body is seen to be grown through material, linguistic and spiritual processes. In this understanding, life gives service to "a body that knows". It is from this angle that an exploration of pregnancy and birthing will be made.
Cross-cultural perspectives on pregnancy and childbirth: encounters with unknowns at the natal/postnatal juncture