Pregnant Pause: Reproduction, Death, and Media Culture (Book Manuscript in Progress)


Spectrality:  *to look; *to haunt

Pregnant Pause orbits around three interrelated thematics:

1/ Racialized Grievability, Biopolitics, and Necropolitics

Given the major risk factors listed below, it is particularly noteworthy that the predominant public face of fatal violence against pregnant women involves white, middle class, married women.  Dateline aired a media meta-analysis in 2005 asking “What’s Missing?”, and who is missing, from stories about missing and murdered women.  When journalist Josh Mankiewicz concludes the segment declaring the tide is turning on the “Missing White Women Syndrome”, because more racialized women in peril are receiving national attention, he silences the necessary conversation about racialized grievability.  My work asks the question, who are we supposed to care about and why?  Whose deaths do we mourn? And how is affect generated through stories about fatal violence against pregnant women? Pregnant Pause uses biopolitics and necropolitics/zombification theory to answer these questions. I argue that one must be seen as having “a life worth living”, as well as valued as reproductively generative, to be a grievable subject; meanwhile, those who are zombified by poverty, racism, colonialism, and state violence are not grievable.

2/ Spectral Optics

The visual economy is central to establishing grievability, but which visual and textual signs stick (Ahmed 2004) to dead pregnant bodies, and why?  Pregnant Pause explores the photographic and video “technology of affect” (White 2014) designed to stir feelings about missing and murdered pregnant women. Circulating baby photographs, portrait studio images, and home movie footage establishes an affective connection to murdered pregnant women. We imagine their “could-have-been-ness” (Ahmed 2004) through these domestic technologies. Conversely, I argue, the lack of visual archive makes an affective connection difficult.

3/ Narrative Necromancy and Ghostly Ethics

I use the term narrative necromancy to refer to the ways in which certain dead figures are (re)animated while others are left for dead.  (Re)animating happens through official channels (ex. missing posters, Amber Alerts, police tiplines) as well as media outlets (America’s Most Wanted, news segments, feature stories in print media, glossy gossip magazines).  Families also (re)animate the dead by telling stories about their lost loved ones, sometimes inventing a public narrative where one does not exist through the use of YouTube memorial videos, website and facebook obituaries, or hashtags.  Strangers also (re)animate the dead by engaging in productive practices such as creating devotional videos and memorial websites for murdered women they never knew.  Finally, as a researcher, I (re)animate the dead because I won’t/can’t let their stories go: I feel compelled to assemble disparate details into a cohesive narrative about fatal violence against pregnant women.

These practices provoke ethical questions: what obligations does one have to the dead as subjects of research?; is an affective attachment essential?; what are the benefits and risks of becoming emotionally invested in these stories?; why does one need to be aware of the “white savior” imperative when committing to narrative necromancy?; are there political and ethical limits to spectrality theory when it comes to studying violence?  Or, in other words, how might we forget the conditions that cause death when we focus on the transgressive potential of the ghost?

Other research interests include:

Violence Against Pregnant Women as a Socio-Cultural Phenomenon

In 2001, Isabelle Horon and Diana Cheng claimed homicide was the primary cause of death for pregnant women.  The word “epidemic” was bandied about to draw attention to the volatility of pregnancy for some women.  Jocelyn Fontaine and Angela Moore Parmley (2007), as well as others, questioned the use of alarmist language to describe prenatal femicide, instead pointing out that pregnancy may be one of many risk factors for women facing violence.  Statistics vary on prenatal violence, though the general consensus is that 4-9% of women will experience violence during their pregnancies, with one outstanding study claiming that up to 17% of pregnant women will experience violence (McMahon and Armstrong 2012).

An intersectional approach to fatal violence against pregnant women adds nuance to this conversation.  Major risk factors for violence include: youth, single/unmarried or separated/divorced relationship status, poverty, non-white racialized identities (especially African-American/Black, Indigenous, and Latina women), financial dependence on current or former abusive romantic partners, low educational attainment, addiction, unemployment, precarious housing arrangements, social isolation, unintended pregnancy, and previous histories of abuse within a relationship.  Various studies call for front-line workers, such as social workers, welfare caseworkers, nurse practitioners and OB/GYNs, to play a key role in screening for prenatal violence (Bewley and Gibbs 1994; Chu et al 2010; McMahon and Armstrong 2012; Saunders et al 2005; Taillieu and Brownridge 2009).  The aforementioned studies are crucial to developing a dialogue about violence against pregnant women; however, the reliance on existing institutions proves problematic for pregnant, marginalized women if one takes into account the intersections between systems of oppression and State violence.  I am interested in corrective avenues that do not involve institutions that further marginalize women.  I question, what does an anti (prenatal) violence movement look like if it does not rely upon over-policing, health surveillance, and legislative measures such as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (2004)?

Yoga and Meditation Programs in Carceral Systems

I continue to work on yoga, healing, and incarceration as a scholar-advocate- practitioner.  As a yoga teacher who began teaching in a men’s medium security institution (Joyceville Ontario) in 2010, I became interested in the possibilities and pitfalls of yoga/meditation programming in carceral systems.  Tria Blu Wakpa (UC-Berkeley) and I co-organized a workshop at the 2013 Critical Ethnic Studies Association that questioned:  can yoga/meditation facilitate healing in dehumanizing spaces like prison?  This workshop generated “Teaching Yoga in Carceral Spaces”, a journal article-in-development that looks at the motivations and outcomes of carceral yoga programming, which simultaneously activates “savior complex” feelings in teachers and contribute to docile prison populations while proving beneficial to prisoners as well.  To further my interests in this topic, I participated in the UC-Berkeley conference “Yoga and Access: Questions of Inclusion Conference” in April 2014, and I completed the Prison Yoga Project training in June 2014.

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