Partial Stories: Maternal Death in a Changing African World


ACLS Fellowship Program


Anthropology and Obstetrics & Gynecology


Roughly one in twenty Malawian women can expect to die of a pregnancy or childbirth complication. As in other places where maternal mortality is high, both the numbers of deaths and the explanations for them are matters of contestation. In the absence of any generally accepted explanation, stories of causality proliferate among a range of practitioners: traditional birth attendants, doctors, herbalists, midwives. These experts’ stories circulate through hospitals and villages. Often, they blame maternal death on social change. “Partial Stories: Maternal Death in a Changing African World” draws on extended fieldwork to retrieve these explanatory narratives. Such stories disappear from the aggregate data of epidemiology but do powerful work in communities. Attention to them illuminates the dilemmas of reproductive choices and medical care in a context of scarcity, and raises questions about key dogmas of global public health.