Managing Reproductive Life: Cross-Cultural Themes in Sexuality and Fertility

Managing Reproductive Life: Cross-Cultural Themes in Sexuality and Fertility

Managing Reproductive Life: Cross-Cultural Themes in Sexuality and Fertility

Managing Reproductive Life: Cross-Cultural Themes in Sexuality and Fertility

Synopsis

Throughout history human societies have sought to manage their reproductive lives to make them fit in with their social, economic and biological conditions. But the different ways communities regulate their fertility, penetrating every aspect of their social life, are so varied and specific that they are often incomprehensible to outsiders. In this book a group of anthropologists set out to throw new light on the dynamics of human reproduction in the world today, looking at the intricate ways that people manage their reproductive life across different cultures, and highlighting the wider meaning of human reproduction and its impact on social organization. The importance of human agency, ethnic boundaries, the regulation of gender relations, issues of fertility and infertility, the significance of children and motherhood and the problems of two large vulnerable social groups, youth and refugees, are all considered in their broader social contexts.

Excerpt

Re-cast, the analysis of kinship remains at the core of socio-cultural and biological anthropology. It sometimes takes the traditional form of the study of the marriage, descent and transmission rules by which groups perpetuate themselves over time. Less obviously, it is also often in the form of questions about gender. Gender itself can be unpacked. It may be studied as relational identities, with variations extending beyond the dualistic biological model of male and female to various socio-cultural and biological constructions of cross-sexual behaviour and transformation. or, as in this volume, the study of gender focuses on the role of women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity in a range of varying social contexts in which women’s agency is pitted against other attempts to harness, exploit or alter that capacity. The key question is who and/or what actually manages women’s sexuality and reproductive life. The earlier anthropological concern with kinship as being at the basis of social continuity drew on an array of distinctions such as that between paternal as against genitorial rights (social versus physical fatherhood) and spoke of men’s rights in women’s genetrix or procreative powers, and, less often, of women’s own genetricial or reproductive rights. The view was of such rights being transacted along with the women in whom these rights were vested, sometimes in exchange for bridewealth or accompanying dowry in marriage, and as part of a system of alliances between inter-marrying groups. The glossary of terms was impressive but undeniably objectified women, often more so than the indigenous concepts of the societies being studied.

Later structuralist analyses depicted marriage as forming exchanges between groups rather than fulfilling the demands of descent. The approach eventually led the way to thinking of women as well as men playing a part in such exchanges. This was the so-called descent versus alliance debate. The image of descent groups exchanging their men and women in the present as . . .

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