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seminar: Prof. Donna Harsch (Carnegie Mellon University) Infantilizing Mothers or Empowering Them? The Fight against Infant Mortality in East and West Germany, 1949-1989

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Location: R0.14 Ramphal building, University of Warwick

Please note new time.

Refreshments served. All are welcome!

A joint event with the Feminist History Group and German Studies.


Since the 1970s, Foucauldian and feminist scholars have criticized the medical monitoring of pregnancy and childbirth as overly interventionist, destructive of a woman-centered birth culture, indicative of bio-political or social control over women’s reproductive lives, and paired with a paternalistic, even patriarchal, discourse about the family and maternal roles. This talk considers if and how these critical interpretations of pregnancy monitoring help us evaluate the fight against infant mortality in the two German states of the Cold War era. It concludes that the Foucauldian interpretation, especially the concept of “liberal governance,” is more enlightening than a social-control model. Neither critique, however, can explain the complexities of either the East German or the West German case. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was consistently interventionist in monitoring pregnancy but never promoted a traditional discourse about women’s roles and in the 1970s the state granted women wide control over their reproductive lives. In contrast, the Federal Republic (FRG) followed a notably laissez faire approach to pregnancy and birth -- but its discourse and law upheld the traditional family with its home-centered mother. After 1970, the FRG joined the East German way and medicalized pregnancy and birth. Yet West German interventionism rose just as its family discourse and law became more egalitarian and its sexual and reproductive policies became less controlling.

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