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Bodies of Knowledge

The Medicalization of Reproduction in Greece

Eugenia Georges

Publication Year: 2008

The author, a second-generation Greek American, returned to Greece with her young daughter to do fieldwork over the course of a decade. Focusing on Rhodes, an island that blends continuity with the past and rapid social change in often unexpected ways, she interviewed over a hundred women, doctors, and midwives about issues of reproduction. The result is a detailed portrait of how a longstanding system of “local” gynecological and obstetrical knowledge under the control of women was rapidly displaced in the period following World War II, and how the technologically-intensive biomedical model that took its place in turn assumed its own distinctive signature. Bodies of Knowledge is a vivid ethnographic study of how a presumably globalizing and homogenizing process like medicalization can be reshaped as women and medical experts alike selectively accept or reject new practices and technologies. Georges found, for example, that women in Rhodes have enthusiastically embraced some new technologies, like fetal imaging during pregnancy, but rejected others, like medical contraception. They are also avid consumers of popular childbirth manuals. This book is the recipient of the 2006 Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Prize for the best project in the area of medicine.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Cover / Bodies of Knowledge

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Returning year after year to do fieldwork on a Greek island sometimes con-jures skeptical, even cynical, reactions from people. I am therefore especially grateful to all those friends, colleagues, family members, and funding agencies who, despite such preconceptions, supported me...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii-.

Because no universally accepted standard of transliteration exists for modern Greek, each of us who attempt to render the language read-able to an English-speaking audience must decide on a system that more or less satisfactorily suits our purposes. I have opted for a mix of phonological and orthographic representation, not least because some ...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-28

This book is about the recent shifts in knowledge and power that have profoundly transformed how women on the island of Rhodes perceive, make sense of, and manage their reproductive bodies and experiences. These shifts, which began soon after the end of World War II and took roughly a generation to complete, can be summed up in the...

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2 Transnational Rhodes

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pp. 29-66

On Rhodes today, the global interconnections that are a hallmark of contemporary transnationalism are everywhere in evidence. They are literally embodied in the island’s population, a fluid and constantly shifting mix of natives and the international tourists that seasonally outnumber them ten-to-one; of thousands of bilingual and bicultural offspring produced by the many unions...

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3 Menstruation, Procreation, and Abortion in Prewar Rhodes

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pp. 67-121

Dedicated to the Dormition of Mary and dating from the eleventh century, Ermia’s church nestles snugly in the spatial and social heart of the village. The tiny limestone basilica is composed of three sections, each crowned by a low dome and each entered through its own door. The door to the central nave was for the exclusive use of men. The one on the right was used by most women...

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4 Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Care in Prewar Rhodes

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pp. 122-156

In this chapter, I describe the body of ethno-obstetrical knowledge that prevailed in rural Rhodes through the first half of the twentieth century. I devote particular attention to the figure of the village midwife, the only specialized occupation then performed exclusively by women. Although largely neglected...

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5 Medicalization and Modernity: New Reproductive Technologies, New Maternal Bodies

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pp. 157-222

On a typically cloudless morning in June, I went to visit Katerina in one of the gleaming new neighborhoods that in recent years have pushed the border of Rhodes Town relentlessly southward. I had first met Katerina, an outstanding athlete who had occasionally competed outside Greece, when she was in her early twenties and still unmarried. By the time I interviewed her a few...

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6 Living with Contradictions: Contraception and Abortion and the Contemporary Greek Family

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pp. 223-271

At the end of the Second World War, the birth rate in Greece began to tumble until, by the late 1990s, it approached a world-historical low.1 Today, the one-to two-child family is the norm, if still not exactly the professed ideal. And so, in just a generation or two, the high-fertility regime described in Chapter ...

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7 Global and Local Bodies of Knowledge

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pp. 272-278

Rhodian women’s ethnomedicine and the biomedicine that replaced it in the postwar decades are both best understood as local articulations of global medical traditions. Many of the ethnogynecological and ethno-obstetric principles and practices that I describe in the first chapters of this book will be recognizable to anyone familiar with ethnographic descriptions of fertility control and ...


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pp. 279-292

References Cited

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pp. 293-314


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pp. 315-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592453
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826515988
Print-ISBN-10: 0826515983

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 435528454
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bodies of Knowledge

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Subject Headings

  • Human reproduction -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Childbirth -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Birth control -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women -- Health and hygiene -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Ethnology -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
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