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Haunting Images

A Cultural Account of Selective Reproduction in Vietnam

Tine M Gammeltoft

Publication Year: 2014

Based on fieldwork conducted in Hanoi, Haunting Images explores how Vietnamese families handle the difficult decisions presented by new reproductive technologies. At the center of the book are case studies of thirty pregnant women whose fetuses were labeled "abnormal" after an ultrasound examination. By following these women and their relatives through the painful process of reproductive decision-making, Tine M. Gammeltoft offers both intimate ethnographic insights into day-to-day lives in a Southeast Asian country and a sophisticated theoretical exploration of how subjectivities are forged in the face of moral assessments and demands.

Across the globe, ultrasonography and other technologies for prenatal screening offer prospective parents new information and present them with agonizing decisions never faced in the past. For anthropologists, this diagnostic capability raises important questions about individuality and collectivity, responsibility and choice. Based on this work in Vietnam, Gammeltoft argues that in order to comprehend how life-and-death decisions are made, anthropologists must pay closer attention to human quests for belonging.

Published by: University of California Press

From the Publisher

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Books can be seen as products of their authors’ belonging, or strivings to belong, to social collectives of conversation and collaboration. The process of writing this book has placed me in profound debt to a variety of such collectives and their individual members. First of all, I am...

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Prologue: Haunting Decisions

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pp. 1-6

On an early morning in February 2004, four weeks after the lunar New Year (Tết Nguyên Đán), my colleague Hạnh and I drove in a rented car along bumpy rural gravel roads leading to Quyết Tiến, a village located in the Red River delta, a few kilometers from Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.1...

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Introduction: Choice as Belonging

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pp. 7-28

It was the moral weight of the decision that burdened Tuyết and Huy. Sitting in the makeshift café outside Hanoi’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, Tuyết folded her arms around her pregnant belly in a protective gesture. “I’m scared,” she said. “I am scared of having to have an...

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1. Sonographic Imaging and Selective Reproduction in Hanoi

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pp. 29-58

“Beautiful, right!” Dr. Tuâ´n exclaimed, pointing to the 3D image of a fetus on the monitor in front of him. Despite the routine character of his work—as the hospital’s most senior sonographer, he performed hundreds of scans every week—Dr. Tuâ´n seemed equally fascinated by...

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2. A Collectivizing Biopolitics

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pp. 59-76

“Our principal goal for the future is to improve population quality. More concretely, this means improving the quality of the Vietnamese people’s stock (giống nòi) by strengthening premarital, prenatal, and neonatal counseling and examinations. This will help produce a population...

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3. Precarious Maternal Belonging

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pp. 77-100

When we first met, on March 17, 2004, Oanh was twenty-nine years old and five months pregnant. Sitting on one of the blue plastic chairs lining the wall in the 3D scanning room, she folded her arms around her belly in the protective gesture that I had seen so many other women use...

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4. “Like a Loving Mother”: Moral Engagements in Medical Worlds

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pp. 101-130

Dr. Tuấn usually talked about ultrasonography in enthusiastic terms. Yet in a conversation that my colleague Hăng and I had with him on May 19, 2004, he drew our attention to what he saw as the darker side of this technology: the human pain that resulted when a fetal problem...

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5. “How Have We Lived?” Accounting for Reproductive Misfortune

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pp. 131-163

“In our family we don’t have much expert knowledge. We do not understand this. Her husband has not been in the army. Can there be environmental problems in this area, as this has happened?” Định, Chúc’s elder brother-in-law, looked bewildered. On December 10, 2003, Toàn and I traveled to a rural village twenty-five...

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6. Beyond Knowledge: Everyday Encounters with Disability

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pp. 164-193

On October 27, 2004, my colleague Toàn received a phone call. In a soft voice, the woman on the other end introduced herself as Mây. The day before, she told Toàn, a 3D scan performed by Dr. Tuấn had found that her fetus was not developing normally. She read his conclusion...

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7. Questions of Conscience

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pp. 194-224

When I fi rst met her, Quý was forty-one years old and lived in a village in Sóc Sơn district, northwest of Hanoi. On January 7, 2005, my colleague Hiệp and I went to visit her and her husband, Hinh. Their house was new and well kept, and the yard outside it meticulously swept...

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Conclusion: Toward an Anthropology of Belonging

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pp. 225-236

In this book I define childbearing as a site where subjectivities are forged, arguing that by framing reproductive decision making as a matter of belonging rather than of freedom, we may attain new understandings of human lives, aspirations, and interconnections. I have made this...

Appendix: Core Cases

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pp. 237-240


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pp. 241-268


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pp. 269-302


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pp. 303-315

E-ISBN-13: 9780520958159
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520278431

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2014