Contemporary Urban Parteiras Tradicionais in Brazil and Discourses on ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Modernity’
Antero de Melo, L.
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In Brazil, parteiras tradicionais are usually portrayed as women who live in rural areas, very much attached to religion, and part of a group on the verge of disappearing, especially because they are only ‘allowed’ to perform their task in cases women in labor do not have access to the public healthcare system. Nevertheless, there currently is a growing movement in Brazilian urban centers to actualize traditional knowledges in the assistance of pregnancy and childbirth, and propose it as a viable alternative for urban women who opt for this type of assistance. Therefore, this project aims at inquiring how contemporary urban parteiras tradicionais are included in this debate, tackling specifically how the concepts of ‘knowledge’ and ‘modernity’ shape their insertion in contemporary society. Even though feminist and decolonial studies (Haraway, 1988; Lugones, 2010) have largely contributed to broadening the discussion on what can be considered proper knowledge in light of modern science, and how such ideas contribute to a “monolithic representation” of the “third world woman” (Mohanty, 1984), previous works have failed to address the possibility of subversion through the attachment to traditions in reproductive healthcare by contemporary urban women. This research aims at investigating how contemporary urban Brazilian parteiras tradicionais manage their living and working in an environment somehow hostile – because it ‘negates’ their existence – to them. The voices of urban parteiras tradicionais are ‘heard’ via excerpts of interviews I did with five of them, alongside participant observation in activities conducted by two of them. Academically, this research can be seen as broadening decolonial and transnational feminist discussions on knowledge and modernity by adding the voices of women who honor their attachment to traditional/ancient practices. Socially, it is expected to demystify common assumptions about parteiras tradicionais and help place them as viable alternative for urban women who opt not to deliver their babies in hospitals.