Accepted paper:

Infanticide: acts, understandings and outcome


Jónína Einarsdóttir (University of Iceland)

Paper short abstract:

Classificatory systems for newborns in Biombo region in Guinea-Bissau and high-tech neonatal intensive units, and in particular such unit in Iceland, will be examined. The focus is on the role of experts and laypeople, the legitimacy of the classificatory systems, their perceived accuracy and influence on the society and infants involved.

Paper long abstract:

The anthropological literature indicates that the attribution of statuses to newborns, such as social membership, personhood or humanness, varies between societies. The same applies to the criteria for achievement. In some societies the importance of the infant's fatherhood has been documented as essential for social membership, while in others a formal naming or a particular ceremony is the very event that gives an infant the respective status. Attribution of humanness can depend on expression of individual personality, human characteristics and a possession of a human soul. The consequences for infants not recognised as humans, persons or members of society may also vary and be crucial for their future. Infants not achieving a required status may be subjected to a particular handling or infanticide. In this presentation the classificatory systems for newborns and their significance for the infants involved will be examined in two distinct social settings. The first setting is Biombo region in Guinea-Bissau where fieldwork was conducted in the 1990s. The second one refers to high-tech neonatal intensive units in general, and in particular one such unit in Iceland. In both settings, experts have the role of assigning the infants to categories however laypeople may influence the outcome. The classifications are contested in both settings, and their accuracy questioned. Yet the legitimacy of the system is generally accepted. Both the systems are ambiguous, and they create tension and anxiety for those engaged in the process, and the classifications attributed to the infants can have serious consequences.

panel W042
Uncertain beginnings: rethinking infanticide and end of life decision-making in infants