Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2019-20/Power and the Body

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Some notes on theoretical understandings of power

- Philosophy: power generally understood as power ‘over’ something. Alt, ‘power to’ do something. Notion that there must be something to dominate o Philosophy tends to define in abstract terms of power in social relationships. This should not eclipse the definition of power as a o Weber: “The probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance”. o Foucault (different theoretical background): “the structures or the mechanisms of power” o Hanna Pitkin: draws on the etymology of povoir/potere ability. “Power is capacity, potential, ability, or wherewithal” o Hannah Arendt; distinguishes power (as a means in itself) from force, violence, coercion etc. ♣ Power does not exist in a vacuum (“power springs up between men when they act together, and vanishes when they disperse”). Power only exists in the context of power relations - Understandings of ‘power’ when discussing the body. Can be linked to various case studies.

Medical History[edit]

Evolutionary Biology[edit]

Who owns the pregnant body ?[edit]

The notion of rites of passage was first introduced by ethnographer, Arnold Van Gennep. It is an individual's passage from a group to another, that is usually accompanied by a ceremony. Van Gennep distinguishes three stages in a rite of passage: separation, liminality and aggregation. Separation is when the individual leaves his or her initial group. Then, liminality comes as "between and betwixt" stage, where the individual has left his old group but hasn't joined the new one. Moms-to-be experience a very confusing stage of liminality. They are teared between their old life and their future as mothers, and all the responsabilities that motherhood implies. Pregnant women usually feel an anxiety and a fear during this floating moment when they are "pre-moms": new subjects come up such as breasfteeding, childbirth. Pregnant women also have new activities such as childbirth classes or reading baby books. [1]. This anxiety during the liminal stage is amplified by the changing behavior of people, that reminds moms-to-be that they are entering a new sphere of the society.

Changing behaviors usually come with uncomfortable remarks from random strangers just like "drink more water"[2], or touching the belly. This constant attempt of being nice may also be seen as a crossing of the social boundaries, explained by an attempt to domesticate the pregnant body[3]. It is a way to regulate and put rules over women who are providing the "raw materials of society"[4]. Thus, the pregnant body is not an individual property anymore, it belongs to the society through a series of constraints, rules, beliefs and traditions, that makes it a special element in the society.

Pregnancy has a sacred character: arbitrary rules and constraints are an expression of the sacred social status of pregnant women.[5]. Depending on the ethnicity and religion, a pregnant women must obey to rules that are supposed to protect her as a fragile body. She must be preserved from evil spirits just like in Jamaica, where Duppies can steal the fetus' spirit if the mother moves too much. There are also many alimentary constraints that are not scientifically proven to be harmful for the baby. For instance, in many African countries, pregnant women are not supposed to eat pineapple, so that the baby doesn't get a scratchy skin, like the fruit.[6]. Society forces moms-to-be to act for their baby's wellbeing, no matter what is costs on their physical and psychological freedom. This can be seen with the obsession of natural childbirth. Choosing an epidural or a C-section has almost become a shame.[7]. Sometimes for medical reasons, women can't have a natural childbirth. They usually feel anxiety and shame because they think their body is not able to do the most basic action of pregnancy. But this pression about natural childbirth comes essentially from society, because in general thoughts, what is natural is automatically better.

Also, today, women are not only supposed to act good for their babies' wellbeing. They are also supposed to look good and stay fit. Pregnancy has in fact, become an attribute of sexiness because of Hollywood's conception of it. After being hidden and considered as a shame during the nineteenth century, pregnancy has gained freedom on TV screens, and Hollywood through its romcoms sells a sexy and attractive image of pregnancy, which is far from reality. [8]. Moreover, Hollywood stars are also embracing the sexy pregnancy through magazine covers (More Demi Moore in 1991), looking more stunning than ever. Not to mention how getting back in shape after pregnancy has become important. This sexualisation of the pregnant body is well illustrated by the MILF (Mother I'd like to fuck) phenomenon, that is increasing on Pornographic websites.

Pregnancy is then the liminality stage of a rite of passage, which is motherhood. With all these social constraints whether it is on their habits, actions or way of looking, pregnant women loose the control of their body for the sake of social power. In addition to the hormonal effects over their body such as nausea, they also have to respect rules and codification from the society. In this way, some women feel alienated from their pregnant body [9]. In other terms, it is not about living pregnancy anymore, it is about performing it as pregnant women don't have any biologic, psychologic or sociologic power over their bodies.

Pregnancy and politics (gender studies perspective, mention demography)[edit]

Title: Power, pregnancy, and the nation state?

- Liberal feminism: conceptualising power as a resource to be redistributed. o Susan Moller Okin: inequitable distribution of ‘social goods’ e.g. work, prestige, self-esteem etc. o On a surface level, this was the kind of power conceptualised by many soviet states in terms of re-balancing the workforce, although in reality it rarely had that effect o Iris Marion Young: disagrees: power is not something to be ‘possessed’ but a relationship between social actors- it cannot be defined in relation to individuals but according to the interaction between them. ♣ Power exists only dynamically- i.e. only when stuff happens you get power (not statically, as in distributive model)- after Foucault. o Many layers at play at all times (complex web of power relations structuralism model). (CHECK Foucault on the switching of one power structure to another discipline and punish?)

♣ E.g. one power structure replacing another. Decree 770: even the elite, even celebrities’ bodies subject to the same law. Legal power overruled the power of status relations. Highly violent, matched with physical power- women interrogated, left to die, not allowed to be operated on etc. And not just because communism (we know there was pervasive inequality esp within the party elite).

  1. [1], The sacred dimensions of pregnancy and birth, Jane Balin, University of Pennsylvania, December 1988
  2. [2], Our modern obsession with pregnancy is just another attempt to control women’s bodies, Phoebe Bronstein,, 17 August 2016
  3. [3],Matter over mind? Examining the experience of pregnancy, S. Warren, J.Brewis, Sage Publications, 2004
  4. [4], Pregnancy and social interactions, Sally Raskoff,, 18 July 2013
  5. [5], The sacred dimensions of pregnancy and birth, Jane Balin, University of Pennsylvania, December 1988
  6. [6],D'Asie aux Amériques, tour du monde des rites qui entourent la maternité avec Lise Bartoli, auteure du livre Venir au monde., Sevin Rey,, 26 May 2017
  7. [7], Get the Epidural, Jessi Klein,, 9 July 2015
  8. [8]Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down, Kelly Oliver, Columbia University Press, 2012
  9. [9],Matter over mind? Examining the experience of pregnancy, S. Warren, J.Brewis, Sage Publications, 2004