Category Archives: Romania

Reflections on a new article

Last week I was delighted to have an article published in the latest volume of Anthropology of East Europe Review. The material in this article was originally intended as a case study for my recent talk at this year’s BASEES conference, but it ended up being such a big issue that it really merited a more detailed treatment. Recently I replied to a tweet I spotted on twitter where a PhD student was lamenting that she had to relegate some data to a footnote in her thesis – the case on which this article is based was a ‘mere’ footnote in my thesis, and here it is published. So there is hope – the thesis is not the end product, but I’m certainly finding that 2 years on from graduating my thinking has developed and the things I am wanting to write now are very different from what is in the thesis itself.

The article is called “Constructions of childhood, victimhood and abortion in Romania: the ‘little-girl mother'”, and is based on articles I gathered during a 2 month period as part of my (much bigger) media review on sexual and reproductive health issues. This is the article abstract:

In June 2008 in Romania an 11-year-old girl found herself thrust into the media spotlight when it was discovered that she was 17 weeks pregnant after being raped by her uncle. Romanian abortion laws permit abortion only up to 14 weeks gestation. In the weeks that followed, the case was rarely out of the popular media, with debates about both the minutiae of this particular case and more general discussion about the appropriateness of the current legal provision taking place within the context of widespread concern about the phenomenon of fetiţe-mame (‘little girl-mothers’). This article considers the way the extensive media coverage of this case contributed to debates in Romania around abortion, childhood and child protection, but also exposed insecurities around national identity and Romania’s place within a wider Europe. It argues that this case serves as a “critical discourse moment” (Brown and Ferree 2005:10) which highlights concerns about legislative shortcomings around abortion, media and professional roles in child protection, and the construction of childhood more generally in Romania.

The full article is available here (open access). In one sense the choice of journal was a bit of a risk – Anthropology of East Europe Review is a journal produced by Indiana University, and submissions are generally editor-reviewed rather than peer-reviewed so from a career perspective it may not be the best thing in that it is not an article that could be submitted for the REF. However I like to think I was very strategic in my choice – due to my current contract I am not being submitted for the 2014 REF in any case, so the first REF (or whatever it will be that replaces it in 2020) that I need to worry about will be considering my publications from 2014 onwards. Obviously I also have to think about my publication record when applying for new jobs, so do need to also be targetting peer-reviewed outlets, but I did feel I could afford for this one article to think about where I would gain most exposure/impact for this particular piece, which as a case study may not have been considered by higher-impact journals. I also really like AEER’s philosophy of aiming for a fast turnaround of research, and of a commitment to disseminating research from regional and early-career scholars. I also very much admired the editor (although this is her final edition before handing over to a new editor) and many CEES scholars (both early career and senior) whose work I respect immensely have also published in AEER, so I am proud to be part of their number. I’m pleased my work can join their conversation. I’m also hopeful that as well as the area studies conversation, this article can contribute to the ongoing debates worldwide about abortion policy and legislation.

Control of reproduction

I’ve been watching with horror and disbelief the debates in the US state of Virginia about a proposed new federal law which would mandate that all women wishing to have an abortion, regardless of the reason, would first have to have an ultrasound scan. Given that many abortions take place before 12 weeks, when it is difficult to detect a foetus using transabdominal ultrasound, this effectively mandates the use of transvaginal ultrasound, a considerably more invasive procedure, whether or not the woman consents to this. There has been a lot of debate about how this wrests control of reproductive choices from women, referred to by some commentators as “state-sanctioned rape”, and in effect “dictating a medical procedure to a physician”. There are a couple of articles here and here with more detail.

Meanwhile, in Hungary, where in 2011 the government tried to introduce anti-abortion legislation using EU funds earmarked for gender equality projects (see here and here), a renowned obstetrician and midwife who has for some years championed home births in Hungary had her appeal against imprisonment not only refused, but her ban on practice lengthened. There is background to the case of Dr Agnes Gereb here and a Guardian report of her unsuccessful appeal here. Home birth is not illegal in Hungary; however it appears that legislators are fearful of an intervention which, in the case of women of low obstetric risk, is at least as safe (and in many cases arguably safer) than hospital births, and this state-sanctioned censuring of the choice to give birth at home is another attempt to reign in choice and increase control over reproduction.

These depressing stories put me in mind of my PhD research, which looked at sexual and reproductive health in Romania and Moldova. Romania in particular had particularly repressive policies around reproduction during the communist era, particularly under Ceausescu – from 1966 abortions were outlawed in all but certain restrictive circumstances, and whilst not banned all methods of contraception were very difficult to obtain, and propaganda against hormonal contraception in particular was so strong and all-pervasive that more than two decades after the end of Ceausescu’s regime in Romania there is still a deep-seated suspicion of it, amongst both public and the medical profession. Women were subject to compulsory gynaecological examinations, doctors and women performing or requesting abortions risked imprisonment and official figures suggest that between 1966-1989 nearly 10,000 women died from the complications from illegal abortions (the real figure is undoubtedly higher, as many deaths will have been illictly recorded as being from other reasons). One of the legacies of this state-sanctioned interference in women’s fertility and reproduction is an ongoing suspicion in Romania of any governmental attempts to promote any national campaign relating to sexual and reproductive health (a recent example would be the disastrous and failed campaign in 2009 to vaccinate school girls against Human Papilloma Virus).

I would recommend anybody who is interested in the consequences of extreme pronatalist and anti-choice legislation read Gail Kligman’s The Politics of Duplicity. This is a masterly, seminal book about Romanian reproductive policy under Ceausescu which details the inevitable outcome of banning abortion, making contraception in effect unavailable, and seeking to control fertility and reproduction so ruthlessly. Policy makers in Virginia in particular, but also elsewhere including Hungary, would do well to learn its lessons.

All about my thesis

My thesis

My thesis

I realise I haven’t said much here about the biggest bit of research I have done to date, namely my PhD thesis. It is a qualitative study of sexual and reproductive health in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, looking primarily at the contexts in which sexual and reproductive health services are provided and the barriers and opportunities identified by people working in this area in a number of sectors (state medical, voluntary sector, international donor, etc). The thesis also incorporated a review of media coverage in the two countries around sexuality, reproduction and sexual and reproductive health. I chose to work in Romania and Moldova for initially quite practical reasons (I speak the language, and had previous contacts and experience in both countries), with the focus on health reflecting my professional background in nursing. The end result is very different from my original research proposal, which was much more rooted in social policy, mainly as a result of the eventual decision to focus more specifically on sexual and reproductive health. This led me down a number of fascinating roads, relating to gender, nationalism, sexuality, religion and morality alongside the original health/policy focus, and caused me to reflect towards the end of the process that the thesis chose me as much as the other way round – I don’t think I could have got as passionate and committed to my originally proposed research as I did to the thesis as it ended up.

The thesis itself can be found in the University of Glasgow thesis repository – this link is to the thesis abstract and the thesis is accessible from there (pdf format). I chose not to place the thesis under embargo, as I have decided that although I do think there is an academic book in me somewhere I feel that practically it would make more sense to concentrate on writing shorter journal articles for now. I am planning on reducing my clinical hours in the new year so I can spend some time writing a number of articles drawn from this thesis, in order both to try to make my list of publications more attractive to potential employers, and to give me the opportunity to write in depth about a number of quite random and disparate issues which although of considerable interest could only be touched upon briefly in the thesis itself. One of the advantages of my thesis and its findings is that it is applicable in a number of academic fields – sociology, public health, development studies, area studies, social policy, gender studies, media studies/discourse analysis as well as qualitative research methodology and other academic sub-areas (sociology of health and illness being a particularly obvious one) – which means that I have a number of articles on several different topics just waiting to be written. One of the disadvantages of that is that I could write for journals which are important and high-impact in one discipline but which for other disciplines are much less relevant and impactful, so over the next couple of months I am going to sit down and plan a strategy for prioritising my writing. As for that book – well, I have ideas for a future research project which I think would ultimately lend itself much more easily to an academic monograph. The other priority for next year is to investigate possible funding for that future research, something else which having more publications under my belt will help, of course.

Yesterday via the #phdchat discussion on Twitter I came across a blog post where the author summarised his work in 100 words. That is a challenge I might think about for a future post, as I know one of my writing problems is not using 1 word when 10 will do!