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Partial Stories

Maternal Death from Six Angles

A close look at stories of maternal death in Malawi that considers their implications in the broader arena of medical knowledge.

By the early twenty-first century, about one woman in twelve could expect to die of a pregnancy or childbirth complication in Malawi. Specific deaths became object lessons. Explanatory stories circulated through hospitals and villages, proliferating among a range of practitioners: nurse-midwives, traditional birth attendants, doctors, epidemiologists, herbalists. Was biology to blame? Economic underdevelopment? Immoral behavior? Tradition? Were the dead themselves at fault? 

In Partial Stories, Claire L. Wendland considers these explanations for maternal death, showing how they reflect competing visions of the past and shared concerns about social change. Drawing on extended fieldwork, Wendland reveals how efforts to legitimate a single story as the authoritative version can render care more dangerous than it might otherwise be. Historical, biological, technological, ethical, statistical, and political perspectives on death usually circulate in different expert communities and different bodies of literature. Here, Wendland considers them together, illuminating dilemmas of maternity care in contexts of acute change, chronic scarcity, and endemic inequity within Malawi and beyond.

384 pages | 6 halftones, 3 tables | 6 x 9

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History of Science


Women's Studies

Table of Contents

Bonnex Kaunda: “There are too many goings-on these days.”
1   Dangerous Modernities
Agnesi Kunjirima: “You can make your pregnancy safe.”
2   Knowing Bodies
Lillian Siska: “I help them right here at home.”
3   Ambivalent Technologies
Chimwemwe Bruce: “Changes, yes, but no development.”
4   Abundant Scarcity
Rhoda Nantongwe: “By the time she comes to the hospital, it is too late.”
5   Countless Accountings
Dyna Ng’ong’ola and Kettie Pensulo: “Women in this community are very much concerned.”
6   Fragile Authority
Glossary of Chichewa Terms
Key People and Places

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