Professor Alicia Bonaparte Explores the Biopolitics of Black Female Reproduction at Conference in South Africa

Illustration by artist Andrea Chung

Claremont, Calif. (December 6, 2016)—Pitzer College Associate Professor of Sociology Alicia Bonaparte and artist Andrea Chung presented their interdisciplinary project “Push and Pull: The Biopolitics of Black Female Reproduction” at the BLACK PORTRAITURE[S] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures Conference held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on November 17-19. The conference was hosted by governmental, academic and arts institutions, including the US Department of State, Harvard University, New York University and the Institute of African American Affairs.

“Push and Pull” examines how the nation-state has impacted black female bodies as midwives and health consumers in reproductive healthcare. Bonaparte’s research delves into the ways black midwives and mothers passed along intergenerational knowledge of healing and birthing traditions within the African diaspora. “Push and Pull” incorporates illustrations by Chung that highlight how women navigate the healthcare system.

Their presentation of “Push and Pull” in Johannesburg explored how the persistence of birthing traditions among US and Jamaican midwives relates to Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics.

“It is our hope that understanding how socio-political machinations by the medical establishments in the US and in Jamaica are reflections not only of a pathologization of the black female body but also harken to the idea that black women are innately deviant beings that require control by the state,” Bonaparte said. “Moreover, illuminating the ways in which black midwives in both the US and Jamaica found surreptitious and blatant ways of rejecting these forms demonstrates an active resistance to state control and an adherence to the continuation and transmission of cultural birthing knowledge in resistance to biopolitics.”

Professor Alicia D. Bonaparte is a medical sociologist who specializes in reproductive health and health disparities. She co-edited the anthology Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth, which addresses the global crisis in maternal health care for black women. Her courses at Pitzer include Sociology of Health and Medicine, African American Social Theory and Moon Called: Black Women, Pregnancy and Ritual. She is currently working on a manuscript addressing how racism, sexism and inter-occupational conflict has affected black grandmother midwives in South Carolina.

BLACK PORTRAITURE[S] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures was the seventh conference in a series of conversations about imaging the black body. It offered a forum that gives artists, activists and scholars from around the world an opportunity to share ideas from historical topics to current research on the 40th anniversary of the anti-apartheid uprisings in Soweto.

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