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  4. Giving birth at the hospital: the indigenous Guarani-Mbyá women and the public health system in Brazil




Giving birth at the hospital: the indigenous Guarani-Mbyá women and the public health system in Brazil




The Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research at the School of Health Science, City, University of London welcomes you to our next research seminar.

In this seminar I propose to present and discuss the data from my anthropological research on the “differentiated healthcare” that the indigenous people now have the right to have access in Brazil. The focus is on the Guarani-Mbya indigenous group and on the relations established between them and the health professionals working in a public hospital in Southern Brazil in maternity care. I will also explore the Guarani-Mbyá understandings about the meaning of a person-body and the sociocultural implications for their community of giving birth in the hospital. I carried out an ethnographic study including eighteen semi-structured interviews and observation fieldwork over eight months. The main questions were: What kind of relations and conceptions of health, body and life are performed between the health team and the Guarani-Mbya women? Are the health professionals open to modify and negotiate their biomedical rationale when faced with a radical otherness? Intervention is a central point for the health professional and, as pointed out by Canguilhem (1984), the “essence of medicine perspective is a technique of instituting or restoring the normal, which cannot be reduced to mere knowledge”. Taking this consideration in account I will explore subjects like “culture” and “responsibility” which were often cited by professionals as imperatives to intervene and to advise these indigenous women of how to treat their babies or how to have a good health outcome once in hospital. I suggest that the complexity of translating concepts such as body, health and life, and the understanding of what it means to “differentiate healthcare”, led to transformations on both sides, Guarani-Mbya women and health professional, and created new kinds of power relations and solidarities.

Presenter: Maria Paula Prates

Maria Paula Prates has been working with the Guarani-Mbyá people since 2003 and has written the book “From the instability and the Mbyá affects: pacifying relations, taming Others” in 2019. This book encompasses a long ethnographic study and it is based on her Master and PhD thesis. She has a doctorate in Social Anthropology and currently works as Newton International Fellowship in the Midwifery Division, City, University of London. Currently she is working on a research titled “Health policies and sociocultural diversity: a comparative study of childbirth services”, which is about the Guarani-Mbya inhabitants from Southern Brazil and the Tibetan refugee community living in the UK.

A light lunch with refreshments will be available 12.30 with talk starting at 12:45. For further information please contact Verity Sullivan (

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When and where

12.30pm - 2.00pmMonday 10th February 2020

MG26 Myddelton Street Building City, University of London 1 Myddelton Street London EC1R 1UW United Kingdom