There Is No Place Like Home: Imitation and the Politics of Recognition in Bolivian Obstetric Care


This article examines how efforts to “culturally adapt” birthing spaces in a rural Bolivian hospital are generating debates among doctors about what constitutes proper obstetric care. Working at the intersection of national and transnational projects, NGOs in Bolivia have remade the birthing rooms of some public health institutions to look more like a home, with the goal of making indigenous women feel more comfortable and encouraging them to come to the clinic to give birth. Yet narratives of transformation also obscure ongoing conditions of racial and gendered inequality in health services. I demonstrate how doctors’ use of culturally adapted technologies enacts shifting affective relations—warm, cold, gentle, harsh—that draws on preoccupations with indigenous culture as a threat to maternal and infant life. In tracing practices of care, I argue that culturally adapted birthing in many ways extends historically rooted practices of doing biomedical work on indigenous bodies.