ANT 4 Seminar

Authoratative knowledge and birth, gender and power.

HideShow resource information

Authoritative knowledge Jordan

There are different ways of knowing, some correct, some incorrect. One will always prevail in any situation. For example, in the West, medicine is the be all and end all of treatment.  In her research, Jordan meets a woman who had ababy. When she was in labour in the US knows that she eneds to push, the machine says she's ready to push and all the nurses know she needs to, but the physician is the only one who can give the go ahead. He has the control over her bbody, not her.

This position of power comes about through a hierarchy of education. He has been trained and thus knows more about the topic that any other in that room, despite the fact that biology and instinct tells the woman she needs to push.

Why do we listen?

- for fear that we are wrong and that if we are, an implications will be our own fault.

- Traditional vs modern / technological.

- What is believable is not necessarily correct. Legitimate and official info from governments, society and research e.g. breastfeeding is the ideal or is poison: changing attitudes and new evidence all the time.

1 of 8

Something Like A War

  • A mother removes her daughters IUD herself despite the doctors telling her not to. She knew what she needed to do - the doctors we wrong, it was hurting and damaging her daughter. But they were not wrong that if she did it herself she put her daughter at risk of death. She knew this.
  • Woman who went to a private doctor to have it taken out after the public one told her no. Although she didn't listen to them, she still sought after medical approval and authority.
  • Power: bribery and money. Case workers in India are under massive pressure to get the numbers of sterilisations. They submit to their authorities by going all out to do so, making promises to people that they will not fulfill. 
  • Also, they see themselves as an authority above the women they work with: they posess a "higher knowledge" of what is "best" for the women. This can be manipulated to get results demanded by their superiors. 
2 of 8

Something Like A War cont.

  • Some women assert their own authority. They stick to their decision that having a large family is in their best interests and so refuse to sign up for sterilisation and resist bribes from the case workers.
  • Some women submit to the case workers because of the implied gains from sterilisation: land ownerships.
  • Interesting dialect between a woman who is prepared to be sterilised for what she gains from it, vs a woman who cannot have children and expresses how much this hurts her. Doesn't feel as though she has fulfilled her role as a woman. (Can use this to demonstrate similarity between homosexual women and heterosexual women: legitimising womanhood and the "natural desire" to bear children).
  • Jordan: Whose knowledge counts? In the discussion groups, the women's did. What they said had value. But when this was transferred to a clinical setting, the nurses words prevailed, they had authority and dismissed the women's desires.
3 of 8

Foucault: Power

Power is worked out through various institutions.

In Something Like A War we saw the women waiting for sterilisation each with a number on their forehead. The power of the medics was physically inscribed upon the women's bodies, firstly through numbering them and secondly through physically changing their bodies in sterilisation. Coercion vs force.

4 of 8

Jeffrey and Jeffrey. Power and the dai.

The dai is considered essential but far inferior because of the associations of her work:

- pollution

- shame connected with sex, the placenta, pregnancy, even the baby itself. These are all polluted things.

The dai cannot advise even though she may have attended literally hundreds of births. The mother-in-law takes charge and gives instruction. Both the dai and the labouring woman answer to her. This is similar to what Jordan found in the West: the woman in labour has an authority figure, physician, who takes the role of advisor.

5 of 8

Birthing the Nation: Pronatalist movement

Zionism 1949 pronatalist movement. Jews wanted more babies to repoopulate after the holocaust. They illegalised contraception for Jews (increasing fertility rates), and discouraged the Palestinians from reproducing (decreasing their population). 

Their response had to address whether they would rather a quantitative resistance (loads of Jews) or fewer, but more educated children. 

Women were the focus of this movement as they not only symbolically represented the nation, but also physically in that they held the potential for growth.

Sexuality of women also key! 

- Modern contraception shows a woman is in control of her body and reproduction. This was seen by some as civilised. 

- Important that a woman looks after herself and uses her sexuality to keep her husband. This holds the family together.

6 of 8

Anagost. China's superior race

The Chinese population seem to have internalised the one child policy. Many now firmly believe that by having fewer children the quality of the nation improves. As was the case with Jews in Birthing the Nation, having fewer children meant that the ones that were there got a better education ---> superior. 

7 of 8


  • Politicised: China's one child policy

Galilee, political war
India, household / community / nation

  • Gender: boys over girls because boys gain the dowry upon being wed.

      Ortner: women ---> nature as man ---> culture. 

  • Power: dai may have more knowledge and experience but mother-in-law has the power.
  • Nationalism: India and the Petition symbolise the nation so violence against women demonstrates hatred and actions against the nation.

In Israel, women are the weapon; they possess the power of reproduction and continuation of the line.

  • Modernity: Now able to choose how many children you have. Control is seen as a good thing. China and Israel. 
8 of 8


No comments have yet been made

Similar Anthropology resources:

See all Anthropology resources »See all resources »