Uncertain beginnings: rethinking infanticide and end of life decision-making in infants

Jónína Einarsdóttir (University of Iceland)
Aaron Denham (Macquarie University)
Start time:
13 July, 2012 at 11:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel reconsiders the definitions and theories of infanticide and other forms of end-of-life decision-making in infants within a variety of sociocultural contexts and perspectives. Ultimately, it attempts to clarify anthropological thinking on infanticide and its oft-narrow theorization.

Long abstract:

Anthropology has had somewhat troubled history with infanticide. Many anthropologists who have encountered infanticide practices during fieldwork remain silent (for various reasons), or briefly comment on them as being unproblematic, routine, or expected because of economic and environmental conditions. While researching and representing a sensitive topic like infanticide is challenging, minimized or decontextualized accounts do little to improve understandings. Unfortunately, experience-near accounts and detailed ethnographic descriptions, the very material needed to theorize and enhance understanding of infanticide practices, are rare. Definitions of infanticide are also uncertain. Frequently described as the killing of a newborn or infant, scholars have expanded it to include the killing of children through direct, violent acts, or indirectly through passive forms, such as neglect and the withholding or withdrawing of care. Theoretically, infanticide is framed as an adaptive behavior, pathological act, or as an attempt to restore social order. In some societies, infanticide is an accepted practice and not regarded as murder. In other contexts, medical considerations regarding postpartum complications permit a lesser sentence for infanticide than homicide. The purpose of this panel is to revisit infanticide, broadly defined. Papers that review former anthropological research on infanticide, reconsider the definition of infanticide, offer detailed ethnographic examples, deconstruct or propose innovative theories, and present family experiences and decision-making are welcome. Papers concerning fetal screening and treatments as well as advanced neonatal intensive care, particularly preterm births and end-of-life decisions, are encouraged, as are those addressing definitions and concepts such as beginnings of life and personhood.