Abstract

This article offers a biocultural analysis of public representations of breastfeeding, identifying underlying social conflicts that infant feeding controversies mask. If the traditional biocultural approach to breastfeeding emphasizes a need to take account of biological facts from within an evolutionary perspective, this version attends to biological and cultural narratives of lactation as constructions of maternity that together produce diverse rhetorical and material results. Analyzing breastfeeding from this kind of perspective brings attention to social norms of male embodiment, the role of technology in mediating social anxieties about mother's bodies, and the ambivalent cultural impacts of the medicalization of infant feeding. The analysis focuses on three different representational domains: television programs and other mass media forms, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2004 National Breastfeeding Promotion Campaign, and feminist scholarship and activism addressing breastfeeding. In each domain, the same controversies circulate—for example, the physical difficulties of breastfeeding, whether breastfeeding in public is appropriate, how much breastfeeding contributes to health, or whether breastfeeding necessitates a technological apparatus to insure success. These debates really concern maternal responsibility and sexuality: the "problem of breastfeeding" is really another problem, namely the one initiated by women's attempts to enter into public life as women, with all the attendant difficulties of asserting equality and difference simultaneously and of challenging reigning public norms about women's proper place.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-661X
Print ISSN
0028-6087
Pages
pp. 479-504
Launched on MUSE
2007-12-17
Open Access
No
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