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Dissertation Proposal Defense, Lily Anderson-Chavarria, “‘In the World but Not of the World’: An Anthropological Analysis of Stratified Reproduction in Midwestern Amish Communities”

May 3 @ 2:00 pm

‘In the World but Not of the World’: An Anthropological Analysis of Stratified Reproduction in Midwestern Amish Communities

Abstract: “Anthropologists have argued that reproduction is a key space where systemic inequalities are contested or reproduced by women, their care providers, and the institutions by which they are constrained. Ethnographic research in these spaces has found that stratification in the form of ethnic, class, and economic divides within a society converge on the birth event. In these contexts, ritual serves as a key vehicle for stratification, with systems of rituals often becoming mythologized as infallible by practitioners. However, it has been observed that when systems are undergoing rapid change and/or individuals are moving between systems, practitioners are often confronted with the fallibility of their own and others’ rituals. As such, rituals during and related to transitions in birth are theorized as key spaces where women have the most power to resist stratification but are also most vulnerable to it. However, descriptions of these experiences and analyses for how they impact stratification in other areas of society are sparse within the anthropological literature.

This proposed research seeks to address this gap in the literature concerning stratifying rituals and power dynamics in transitional settings through ethnographic research with Amish communities and birth institutions in Indiana and Michigan. Past research on Amish women’s birth rituals has demonstrated that they rely on a variety of systems, often giving birth at home, in the hospital, and in birth clinics over the course of their reproductive lives. While there are cases of conflict in some of these settings, the literature suggests a highly cooperative relationship between many local Amish communities and birth institutions. This dynamic appears to enable Amish women to transition between birth locations with relative ease and for whole communities to transition between preferred locations with substantial support. Of significance, Amish individuals appear resistant to the mythologization of any one particular system of birth rituals, but there are indications that care providers themselves construct and mythologize their own ideas of an Amish birth system. Thus, while the Amish are currently absent from the anthropological literature on stratified reproduction, I suspect their impact is not. By conducting this study, I hope to add an ethnographic perspective on Amish individual’s experiences within America’s reproductive hierarchies and explore the implications for other communities, with the goal of improving birth experiences for both Amish and non-Amish women.

To accomplish this research, I will rely primarily on participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Informal interviews, archival research, document collection, and auto-ethnography will serve as secondary methodologies. I will interview care providers, mothers, and relevant community members in hospital, homebirth, and birth clinic settings for their perspectives on Amish birth rituals. Comparative research on interactions between Amish and non-Amish individuals and birth care providers at different institutions is expected to be a microcosm of the complex power dynamics of stratification, displaying mechanisms both documented and undocumented in the literature. It is predicted that Amish individual’s attempts to balance being ‘in the world but not of the world’ through the strategic use of birth rituals ultimately contributes to stratified reproduction in ways that affect the power of both Amish and non-Amish women across America.”


This dissertation proposal defense will be held via Zoom. If you would like to participate in the defense, please contact Lily Anderson-Chavarria at ande1994@msu.edu for video meeting details.


May 3
2:00 pm
Event Category:


Video Conference