Making Sense of Bodies: Expert Imaginations and Unsafe Motherhood in Malawi

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University Club, Room 212
@ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Portrait image of Claire Wendland in front of a white wall wearing a black shirt and glasses

Monday Seminar:

Claire Wendland

Resident Fellow (2009-2010)

Departments of Anthropology, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Medical History and Bioethics, UW-Madison


In one of the poorest countries in a poor region of the world, Malawian women, their families, and those who are charged with their care in pregnancy and labor face an unexplained increase in maternal deaths. The ambiguities that attend nearly all individual deaths leave room for a range of diagnoses and possible interventions, proposed by a range of practitioners: traditional birth attendants and healers, nurse-midwives, herbalists, and doctors. These experts’ descriptions and prescriptions reveal how they write upon dead mothers’ bodies their experiences of a rapidly changing social context and their beliefs about the perils and potentials of women’s “empowerment,” fertility, poverty, and modernity.


Claire Wendland, who is an anthropologist and an obstetrician, is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with appointments in the Departments of Anthropology, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Medical History & Bioethics. Her areas of active research and teaching center on the anthropology of reproduction, sexuality and the body, and the impact of contemporary global health movements in Africa. Her first book (in press, U. of Chicago) is A Heart for the Work: Journeys Through an African Medical School. At the IRH she will be working on her second book manuscript.