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Childbirth in America. Anthropological perspectives. By Karen L. Michaelson and Contributors. South Hadley MA Bergin and Garvey Publishers Inc. 1988. ix + 304 pp. tables bibliography index. $49.95 (cloth) $18

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BOOK REVIEWS
Section 5, DNA damage and repair, presented contradictory results. The symposium
participants suggest that it is just now
becoming possible, through the techniques
of molecular biology, to understand some of
the key features of this theory, such as a n
examination of how the DNA repair system
works and which part of the genome is
responsible for longevity. Again, this is a
promising area, but much work remains to
be done.
Anyone who is involved in aging, either
teaching or research, should be familiar
with this book. The major theories are very
clearly and fairly presented by a n outstanding set of scientists. The literature cited is up
to date relative to the symposium. While this
book would probably not serve well as a
primary text, it is certainly a volume that
should be in all university libraries.
JAMES
R. BINDON
Department of Anthropology
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
CHILDBIRTH IN AMERICA.
ANTHROPOLOGICAL
tive health care and its relationship to
PERSPECTIVES.
By Karen L. Michaelson social, economic, and political forces. Since
and Contributors. South Hadley, MA: a recognizable anthropological treatment of
Bergin and Garvey Publishers, Inc., 1988. childbirth in America is not characteristic
ix 304 pp., tables, bibliography, index. of the volume a s a whole, a more accurate
$49.95 (cloth), $18.95 (paper).
subtitle might have been “social science
perspectives.”
Several chapters do express a n anthropoThe editor of this volume takes on the logical view. Rayna Rapp’s analysis of
challenging task of presenting a n encom- women’s discourses on amniocentesis, in
passing view of childbirth in America from which she quotes liberally from interviews
a n anthropological perspective. The book is with informants, is a n example. Rapp obindeed comprehensive. An introductory serves that although pregnancy discourses
chapter by the editor sets the stage by de- vary among practitioners, and between pracscribing a variety of issues such a s trends titioners and pregnant women, in the realm
in the medical management of childbirth, of prenatal diagnosis women are obliged to
problems of control and choice facing child- assimilate the discourses (and underlying
bearing women, the effects of poverty on the cognitive frameworks?) of medical specialhealth status of pregnant women and on ists, because there is no counterbalancing
infant outcome, and childbirth policy (espe- popular culture to provide a n alternative
cially the consequences of directing scarce conceptualization. The experience of underresources to intervention rather than preven- going prenatal diagnosis and coping with a
tion). Following the introduction, 18 chap- positive outcome is intensely privatizing,
ters are divided into four topical sections: far “removed from the maternal discourses
decisions in pregnancy, birth place/birth
by which pregnant women gradually become
style, babies in crisis, and becoming a mothers, not simply medical cases” (p. 109).
parent.
Robbie Davis-Floyd’s chapter on birth a s
Most of the chapters are more generically a n American rite of passage explores and
social scientific rather than distinctly an- exposes the cultural symbolism inherent in
thropological. The first three chapters, for routine childbirth care practices in hospiexample, treat issues of class and ethnicity tals. Hospital birth in this analysis asserts
and contribute relevant findings to the larger the supremacy of technology over nature.
dialogue among epidemiologists, sociolo- Doctors as skilled technicians deliver babies
gists, anthropologists, and others on disen- from potentially defective birthing machines
tangling the effects of class and race on -the mother’s reproductive apparatus. Roumaternal and infant outcomes and on deter- tines from wheelchairs and the intravenous
mining what dimensions of class and race drip to electronic fetal monitors and episiotare important. But the research questions omies all transmit some version of the mesasked in these chapters, and others in the sage that technology is needed to accombook, and the methods used to collect and plish natural (female) processes. The special
analyze data, are increasingly common effects of ritual, if they are successful, reinamong social science researchers looking a t force on all participants core values and
large-scale problems of adequate reproduc- beliefs of American society. Although some
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BOOK REVIEWS
labor and delivery routines have been abandoned in many hospitals (wheelchairs, shaving a n d enemas, separation of the father
from the laboring mother, etc.), a trend
noted by Davis-Floyd, the practical and
symbolic uses of technology are increasing
in newer reproductive medical specialities,
particularly infertility treatment and prenatal monitoring (and treatment) of fetuses.
The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
is a relatively recent subject of anthropological inquiry. Lucile Newman summarizes
her research into the social and sensory
environments of low-birthweight babies in
the section devoted to cultural dimensions of
the hospital treatment .of critically ill newborns. Jeanne Harley Guillemin, using the
case study method, examines how NICU
staff evaluate and treat parents of the
infants in their charge. She also comments
on disjunctions in neonatologists’ and parents’ concerns. Neonatologists judge success on short-term outcomes and restrict
what they say to parents about the longerterm risks their sick infants face, partly
451
because too little is known about how well
NICU survivors do in later life to make such
statements with confidence and partly because neonatologists’ values and rewards
emphasize saving critically ill infants from
immediate crises.
Collectively, the chapters in Childbirth in
America lay out a representative sketch of
research, problems of interest to sociocultural anthropologists and other social scientists working in the area of reproductive
health. A distinct accomplishment is the
acknowledgement in some of the chapters
that not all American women want the same
kind of childbirth care or have the same
values and attitudes about pregnancy, birth,
and parenting, and that this variation needs
addressing in both childbirth policy and
practice.
MCCLAIN
CAROLSHEPHERD
Medical Anthropology Program
University o f California, S a n Francisco
S a n Francisco, California
BIOLOGY
OFTHE PEOPLES OF INDIAN REGION. Journals a n d Abbreviations used; BibliMALDIVES, ography; and the Appendix.
BANGLADESH,
BHUTAN,INDIA,
NEPAL,PAKISTAN,
SRILANKA.A CLASSI- The brief introduction basically elaborates
FIED AND COMPREHENSIVE
BIBLIOGRAPHY.the organization of the main text “categoBy M.K. Bhasin. Delhi: Kamla-Raj Enter- rized under the following heads” (p. 1):
prises. 1988. vii 496 pp., tables, index. Primates-Behaviour and Biology; Demography, Inbreeding, Marriage Distance; AnRs. 400/-(cloth).
thropometry, Physiology and Nutrition;
Dental Anthropology; Dermatoglyphics;
Anthropological studies in India and their Morphological a n d Behavioral Characpublication are more than 100 years old. The ters; Taste Sensitivity and Colour Blindness;
research papers are widely scattered in Genetic Markers in Human Blood; and Huworld journals, reports, and the proceedings man Population Cytogenetics. Further subvolumes of various conferences, national as headings under most of these are helpful for
well as international in origin. To locate more specific references.
Section 2 on journals and their abbreviathese h a s always been a nightmare; one had
to adopt a “hit in the dark” approach to tions, h a s 366 listings, a large number
stumble on a lead reference and proceed indeed. This includes the proceedings of various societies and academies, reports, and
from there if luck favoured.
The present 496-page volume is a compre- memoirs. It reflects the scattered nature of
hensive bibliography of the published liter- the biological anthropology publications for
ature on biological anthropology relating to the region, and the potential difficulty in
peoples of the Indian region. It covers the locating them.
The bibliography, the main part, is arcountries south of the Himalayas, including
Maldives and Sri Lanka but excluding ranged alphabetically by author and for
Burma. The bibliography covers 371 pages; each author chronologically under each
the two appendices of 72 pages include some heading. It lists about 5,000 entries, a rough
tables and maps and a n exclusive ethno- estimate based on average entries per page.
graphic bibliography on tribes and castes of Anthropometry, Physiology, a n d Nutrition
India. It h a s four sections: Introduction; is spread over 104 pages; Dermatoglyphics
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cloth, 304, bergin, 1988, south, contributors, index, inc, bibliography, anthropological, childbirth, hadley, michaelson, karen, tablet, garver, american, perspectives, publisher
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