Contrasting the birthing practices of upper-class and indigenous women, this ethnography of the alternative birth movement in Mexico offers new understandings of female empowerment, citizenship, and the commodification of indigenous culture.
Recent anthropological scholarship on “new midwifery” centers on how professional midwives in various countries are helping women reconnect with “nature,” teaching them to trust in their bodies, respecting women’s “choices,” and fighting for women’s right to birth as naturally as possible. In No Alternative, Rosalynn A. Vega uses ethnographic accounts of natural birth practices in Mexico to complicate these narratives about new midwifery and illuminate larger questions of female empowerment, citizenship, and the commodification of indigenous culture, by showing how alternative birth actually reinscribes traditional racial and gender hierarchies.
Vega contrasts the vastly different birthing experiences of upper-class and indigenous Mexican women. Upper-class women often travel to birthing centers to be delivered by professional midwives whose methods are adopted from and represented as indigenous culture, while indigenous women from those same cultures are often forced by lack of resources to use government hospitals regardless of their preferred birthing method. Vega demonstrates that women’s empowerment, having a “choice,” is a privilege of those capable of paying for private medical services—albeit a dubious privilege, as it puts the burden of correctly producing future members of society on women’s shoulders. Vega’s research thus also reveals the limits of citizenship in a neoliberal world, as indigeneity becomes an object of consumption within a transnational racialized economy.
- List of Illustrations
- 1. Commodifying Indigeneity: Politics of Representation
- 2. Humanized Birth: Unforeseen Politics of Parenting
- 3. Intersectionality: A Contextual and Dialogical Framework
- 4. A Cartography of “Race” and Obstetric Violence
- 5. (Ethno)Medical (Im)Mobilities
- Conclusion: Destination Birth—Time and Space Travel
“Vega walks the reader through more than two years of ethnographic work…She is attentive to her own origins as a relatively well-resourced American academic in relation to the communities she studies, exercising a 'hyper-self-reflexivity' to understand the ways in which even subtle differences in appearance, language, and consumption patterns impact social inclusion.”
“[No Alternative] is a good examination of the other side of humanized birth…this book has many strengths, including its theoretical sophistication and the very important way that Vega reimagines alternative birth and its effect on different bodies and populations. Anyone interested in matters of anthropology of reproduction, race and citizenship, and Mexico would benefit from reading Vega's No Alternative.”
Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
“No Alternative is a deeply theoretical and richly ethnographic critique of the relationship between traditional midwifery and the humanized birth movement in Mexico…Vega adds important provocations and depth to scholarly and activist conversations about power in health care in general, and about the intersecting forces that direct flows of knowledge and authority in the field of childbirth in particular.”
Medical Anthropology Quarterly
“No Alternative offers a sharp and reflexive analysis of contemporary midwifery practices in Mexico…Vega's narrative style is simultaneously sharp and smooth, making reading resemble the experience of watching a detective movie. She takes the reader from one ethnographic site to the next as if they had been seamlessly lived...This strategy gives fluidity to the narrative while also endowing force and clarity to her arguments.”
Reproductive BioMedicine and Society Online
“No Alternative demonstrates that the study of childbirth is a lens through which one can unearth social realities and analyse the dynamics of inequities under the guise of postmodern, well-intentioned liberation movements…This project accomplishes its goals of demonstrating how women's bodies and their reproductive options (or lack thereof) are sites where race, class and gender are created and transnational economies play out. It makes crucial intellectual interventions in the evolving fields of medical anthropology and transnational feminist studies.”
Journal of Latin American Studies
“[No Alternative] should be of interest to sociologists teaching classes on reproduction, medical sociology, development, and global and transnational processes.”
American Journal of Sociology
Vega argues that pregnancy is a primary 'site of racialization,' by which the intersectional processes that define Mexico’s parameters for inclusion and exclusion are laid bare. She also interrogates larger issues, including commodification of cultures, unintended effects of feminism, and the limits of citizenship imposed by neoliberal regimes. The writing is exquisite, compelling, and accessible. Highly recommended for students, researchers, and birth practitioners.
Carole Browner, editor of Reproduction, Globalization, and the State