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Untangling Toxicity in Birth Practices: Placenta Politics in the United States and Uganda

Kara E. Miller (California State University, USA)

Reproductive Governance and Bodily Materiality

ISBN: 978-1-80071-439-7, eISBN: 978-1-80071-438-0

Publication date: 7 April 2022


This chapter is an ethnographic exploration of birthing and body politics in the United States and Uganda with the placenta as the catalyst for understanding reproductive regulation and gendered bodily epistemologies. Based on fieldwork spanning 2009–2017 with rural, traditional midwives in Southern Uganda, merged with recent, anecdotal observations from Los Angeles County and greater California and the United States generally, this work considers cultural terrains of placentas as well as corresponding worldviews and perspectives, ranging from life-generating organ imbued with vast spiritual and physiological significance, to preventative mental health food, to bio-waste that is incinerated or filled with toxic chemicals. The bio-ontologies of placentas are explored herein in terms of toxic contingencies and with regard to the relationship between health and industry.

Toxic entanglements and embodied politics of risk and exposure explored herein point to dehumanizing and ill-fitting regulations that stifle health autonomy and medical sovereignty. Such disempowering governance is compounded by gender and myriad cultural factors. With implications for national and international policies, this work examines my findings that illustrate ways in which flesh, technologies and knowledge intersect in bio-praxes that monitor and manage, rather than support, the reproductive body. This work suggests departure from colonial instability and dispossession by re-scripting medicine in such a way that achieves health justice through bodily knowledge, or enfleshed understandings. Decolonizing the flesh demands ungripping health encounters from praxes of control, in favour of choice and preference. This entails reclaiming physiologies as well as reimagining how medical systems inform core ethos.



Miller, K.E. (2022), "Untangling Toxicity in Birth Practices: Placenta Politics in the United States and Uganda", Guerzoni, C.S. and Mattalucci, C. (Ed.) Reproductive Governance and Bodily Materiality (Emerald Studies in Reproduction, Culture and Society), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 111-126.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022 Kara E. Miller. Published under exclusive licence by Emerald Publishing Limited