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Cult Med Psychiatry. 2001 Jun;25(2):195-223.

Practices of the pregnant self: compliance with and resistance to prenatal norms.

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University of California, Los Angeles, USA.


A major challenge of medical anthropology is to assess how biomedicine, as a vaguely-defined set of diverse texts, technologies, and practitioners, shapes the experience of self and body. Through narrative analyses of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 158 pregnant women in southern California, this paper explores how the culture of biomedicine, encountered formally at prenatal care check-ups and informally through diverse media, influences pregnant women's perceptions of appropriate prenatal behavior. In the spirit of recent social scientific work that draws on and challenges Foucauldian insights to explore social relations in medicine, we posit a spectrum of compliance and resistance to biomedical norms upon which individual prenatal practices are assessed. We suggest that pregnancy is, above all, characterized by a split subjectivity in which women straddle the authoritative and the subjugated, the objective and the subjective, and the haptic as well as the optic, in telling and often strategic ways. In so doing, we identify the intersection between the disciplinary practices of biomedicine and the practices of pregnant women as a means of furnishing more fruitful insights into the oft-used term "power" and its roles in constituting social relations in medicine.

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