The Work of Inscription: Antenatal Care, Birth Documents, and Shan Migrant Women in Chiang Mai

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For transnational migrant populations, securing birth documents of newly born children has crucial importance in avoiding statelessness for new generations. Drawing on discussions of sovereignty and political subjectivization, I ask how the fact of birth is constituted in the context of transnational migration. Based on ethnographic data collected from an antenatal clinic in Thailand, this article describes how Shan migrant women from Myanmar (also known as Burma) utilize reproductive health services as a way of assuring a safe birth while acquiring identification documents. Paying close attention to technologies of inscription adopted for maternal care and birth registration, I argue that enacting bureaucratic documents offers a chance for migrant women to bridge the interstice between human and citizen. Birth certificates for migrant children, while embodying legal ambiguity and uncertainty, epitomize non-citizen subjects’ assertion of their political relationship with the state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-498
Number of pages18
JournalMedical Anthropology Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. I wish to thank Shan migrant women and antenatal clinic nurses in Chiang Mai for allowing me into their lives. This article benefited from the insightful comments and suggestions of Philip Taylor, Kathryn Robinson, Andrew Kipnis, and Andrew Walker. I am also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers and MAQ editor Clarence Gravlee for their helpful feedback. Sincere thanks also go to Hansjörg Dilger, Heide Castañeda, Nolan Klien, and Samuel Taylor-Alexander for their invaluable support and advice. Fieldwork was supported by the Australian National University and the Asia Institute of the University of Melbourne. An earlier version of this article received the Rudolf Virchow Award Graduate Student Prize from the Society for Medical Anthropology’s Critical Anthropology for Global Health Caucus in 2013.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the American Anthropological Association

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology

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