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Haunting Images

Haunting Images: A Cultural Account of Selective Reproduction in Vietnam

Tine M. Gammeltoft
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 323
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  • Book Info
    Haunting Images
    Book Description:

    Based on years of careful ethnographic fieldwork in Hanoi,Haunting Imagesoffers a frank and compassionate account of the moral quandaries that accompany innovations in biomedical technology. At the center of the book are case studies of thirty pregnant women whose fetuses were labeled "abnormal" after an ultrasound examination. By following these women and their relatives through painful processes of reproductive decision making, Tine M. Gammeltoft offers intimate ethnographic insights into everyday life in contemporary Vietnam and a sophisticated theoretical exploration of how subjectivities are forged in the face of moral assessments and demands.Across the globe, ultrasonography and other technologies for prenatal screening offer prospective parents new information and present them with agonizing decisions never faced in the past. For anthropologists, this diagnostic capability raises important questions about individuality and collectivity, responsibility and choice. Arguing for more sustained anthropological attention to human quests for belonging,Haunting Imagesaddresses existential questions of love and loss that concern us all.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95815-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Prologue: Haunting Decisions
    (pp. 1-6)

    On an early morning in February 2004, four weeks after the lunar New Year (Tết Nguyên Đán), my colleague Hạnh and I drove in a rented car along bumpy rural gravel roads leading to Quyết Tiến, a village located in the Red River delta, a few kilometers from Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.¹ On this morning, the flooded rice fields were a calm ocean, the water reflecting the gray of the sky. At this time of the year, farmers usually began transplanting their spring seedlings, moving them from the nurseries in the village into the open fields. Had this been an ordinary...

  6. Introduction: Choice as Belonging
    (pp. 7-28)

    It was the moral weight of the decision that burdened Tuyết and Huy. Sitting in the makeshift café outside Hanoi’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, Tuyết folded her arms around her pregnant belly in a protective gesture. “I’m scared,” she said.“I am scared of having to have an abortion. I don’t understand this. Everything seems normal—it has arms and legs, everything looks so fine. There is only this problem with the brain. Having an abortion now would be wrong. But if it is not well, keeping it means suffering. Our child will suffer and I will suffer. We just have...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Sonographic Imaging and Selective Reproduction in Hanoi
    (pp. 29-58)

    “Beautiful, right!” Dr. Tuấn exclaimed, pointing to the 3D image of a fetus on the monitor in front of him. Despite the routine character of his work—as the hospital’s most senior sonographer, he performed hundreds of scans every week—Dr. Tuấn seemed equally fascinated by every single scan he did. He praised each fetus for its beauty, its agile movements, its fine facial features, the perfect roundness of its head, and the balanced dimensions of its limbs. His wonder at the capacities of the machine he operated, and the pregnant woman’s visible relief and delight when the scan went...

  8. CHAPTER 2 A Collectivizing Biopolitics
    (pp. 59-76)

    “Our principal goal for the future is to improve population quality. More concretely, this means improving the quality of the Vietnamese people’s stock (giống nòi) by strengthening premarital, prenatal, and neonatal counseling and examinations. This will help produce a population that is healthy in physical, mental, and spiritual terms. . . . However, in our country prenatal and neonatal screening are new programs, which means that many couples have not realized their benefits, and many children are still born with disabilities that could have been prevented before or during pregnancy.”

    These are the words of Dr. Dương Quốc Trọng, a...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Precarious Maternal Belonging
    (pp. 77-100)

    When we first met, on March 17, 2004, Oanh was twenty-nine years old and five months pregnant. Sitting on one of the blue plastic chairs lining the wall in the 3D scanning room, she folded her arms around her belly in the protective gesture that I had seen so many other women use. In a low voice, she said: “I had a cold when I was two months pregnant, so I considered having an abortion. I don’t know what I would do if this child were not normal. . . . I so much want to erase this picture of...

  10. CHAPTER 4 “Like a Loving Mother”: Moral Engagements in Medical Worlds
    (pp. 101-130)

    Dr. Tuấn usually talked about ultrasonography in enthusiastic terms. Yet in a conversation that my colleague Hằng and I had with him on May 19, 2004, he drew our attention to what he saw as the darker side of this technology: the human pain that resulted when a fetal problem was found. What Dr. Tuấn cherished about his job was to be able to reassure expectant mothers of the beauty and normality of their children-to-be, to share with them the happy future that this child body promised. The opposite situation was, I knew, one that he found difficult to bear....

  11. CHAPTER 5 “How Have We Lived?” Accounting for Repoductive Misfortune
    (pp. 131-163)

    “In our family we don’t have much expert knowledge. We do not understand this. Her husband has not been in the army. Can there be environmental problems in this area, as this has happened?” Định, Chúc’s elder brother-in-law, looked bewildered.

    On December 10, 2003, Toàn and I traveled to a rural village twenty-five kilometers from Hanoi to meet with twenty-seven-year old Chúc and her family. A few days earlier, an ultrasound scan performed at the obstetrics hospital had revealed that her fetus fell far outside the boundaries of the normal. Its legs were 40 millimeters long—this was defined as...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Beyond Knowledge: Everyday Encounters with Disability
    (pp. 164-193)

    On October 27, 2004, my colleague Toàn received a phone call. In a soft voice, the woman on the other end introduced herself as Mây. The day before, she told Toàn, a 3D scan performed by Dr. Tuấn had found that her fetus was not developing normally. She read his conclusion aloud to Toàn. Then she asked, “Can you tell me, If I keep this fetus, what will my child be like?”

    Three weeks later, on November 18, Hiệp and I went to Hanoi’s Thanh Xuân district where Mây lived with her husband. When we reached their apartment, Mây was...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Questions of Conscience
    (pp. 194-224)

    When I first met her, Quý was forty-one years old and lived in a village in Sóc Sơn district, northwest of Hanoi. On January 7, 2005, my colleague Hiệp and I went to visit her and her husband, Hinh. Their house was new and well kept, and the yard outside it meticulously swept. Hinh invited us in. After seating us in the heavy wooden chairs in the main room of their house, he served us steaming-hot boiled corn “to keep you warm on this chilly day.” Telling us that their floor was cold at this time of the year, he...

  14. Conclusion: Toward an Anthropology of Belonging
    (pp. 225-236)

    In this book I define childbearing as a site where subjectivities are forged, arguing that by framing reproductive decision making as a matter of belonging rather than of freedom, we may attain new understandings of human lives, aspirations, and interconnections. I have made this claim on the basis of ethnographic material from Vietnam that suggests that people handle existentially extreme situations by responding to the demands that others place on them, thereby claiming and enacting social attachment and commitment. Such attachment is, as the preceding pages show, inherently contingent and tenuous, making for a shifting and unstable moral accomplishment rather...

  15. APPENDIX: Core Cases
    (pp. 237-240)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 241-268)
  17. Biblography
    (pp. 269-302)
  18. Index
    (pp. 303-315)