Pregnant Pauses: How Urban Women Compose Social Connections, Health, and Modern Belonging in Postcolonial Uganda

Author: ORCID icon
Eisenstein, Anna, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Eisenstein, Anna, AS-Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation is an ethnography of pregnancy. In it, I draw on participatory photo, video, and voice recordings produced over the course of twenty-one months of fieldwork with twelve middle-class women (ages 18-28) in a fast-growing urban center in southwestern Uganda. As I consider how pregnancy figures in these women’s narratives and practices of personal and family wellbeing and progress, I argue that pregnancy in Uganda is one part of a broader process of composing a network of care around oneself and one’s (expected) children, and that this is because good health/life (amagara marungi) is understood to spring forth from good relationships. Further, since pregnancy is such a transformational period in one’s life and social relationships, I suggest that it offers a special window into the concerns surrounding kinship and relatedness in contemporary Uganda. And because women in Uganda are so closely identified with their fertility, focusing directly on pregnancy helps highlight how deeply gender contours experiences, temporalities, and trajectories of composition.

In my use of the term composition, I hearken to Jane Guyer and Samuel Belinga’s (1995) efforts to discuss wealth-in-people not in terms of the typical idiom of “amassing” or “accumulating” followers, but rather, in terms of the “composition” of networks of specific individuals with complementary characteristics and offerings. I build on their insight by theorizing composition as an emergent, interactional process that unfolds in real time as social actors read and respond to one another. Far from falling back on a set of preconfigured relationships, women in urbanizing Uganda actively pursued some social bonds and closed themselves off from others through gendered forms of interactional labor, that would become key to their ability to secure health and wellbeing. Grounding my approach in linguistic anthropological perspectives on language as social action, I show how the risks and promises of different kinds of relationships call for different forms of care, and how these forms of care influence the politics of what kind of life becomes possible, and for whom. With this argument, I participate in a medical anthropology that gets beyond the clinical gaze to instead trace relational practices of fostering life, wellbeing, and care as they lead both into and out of spaces typically cast as therapeutic.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
pregnancy, Uganda, care, composition, temporality, inequality, urbanization, kinship and relatedness
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: