Reconnecting State and Kinship

By Tatjana Thelen; Erdmute Alber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Undoing Kinship
Producing Citizenship in a Public Maternity
Hospital in Athens, Greece

EIRINI PAPADAKI

This chapter investigates the process of institutional and ethical de-kinning of birth mothers by state social workers. The material presented here was collected in one of the largest public maternity hospitals in Athens, Greece, referred to here under the pseudonym “ATHENA.”1 I focus on stories of dekinning narrated by the staff of the maternity ward concerning newborn infants who, instead of leaving the hospital with their birth mothers, are sent off to a state care center and thereafter, possibly, to an adoptive family. In such cases of permanent postnatal separation, state social workers inhabit the position of gatekeepers, in that they are authorized and expected to make decisions on what constitutes “appropriate” motherhood, which is often linked to the notion of political belonging within the Greek nationstate. State agents become gatekeepers and bearers of the dominant ideology of motherhood and participate in defining the appropriate or ethically justifiable reproductive scenarios for the next generation of citizens and thus in defining the national body.

From their position within the state apparatus in Greece, social workers in maternity wards in state hospitals are thus entrusted with the task of classifying birth mothers as “proper” or “not proper” and of determining which of them can be trusted to perform their prospective duties as mothers and which cannot, similar to the Danish kindergarten pedagogues described in the following chapter by Bundgaard and Fog Olwig. Exploring such day-to-day classificatory practices, as Thelen and Alber argue in the introduction to this

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