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Psychiatry, Sex and Science: The Making of “Adolescent” Motherhood in Southern Brazil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-90
JournalMedical Anthropology
Issue number1
Early online date4 May 2017
Accepted/In press7 Mar 2017
E-pub ahead of print4 May 2017


King's Authors


Research linking teen motherhood to psychoneurodevelopmental causes and pathologies has proliferated in the past two decades. In Brazil, a psychodevelopmental project of teen motherhood has gained traction despite many experts’ long-standing commitment to psychodynamic psychiatry and social epidemiology, generating epistemic tension rather than substitution. Drawing on historical ethnography conducted in Southern Brazil, I explore how this project materialized through the co-production of epistemic struggles, remedial interventions, and ontological politics. In showing how this co-production became interwoven with incremental changes in young women’s emotions, sexualities, relationships, and bodies, I describe how one particular “kind” of teen motherhood emerged and became entangled with both psychiatric knowledge-creation and the angst of working-class political agency. In giving women a contested psychiatric language with which to rework their social-moral worlds, I argue that science did more than conceptualize teen childbearing in pathological terms; it contributed to its troubled transformation.

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