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Matters of Life and Longing is based on eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork in a low-income neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city Recife,
Northeast Brazil. Having lived in the neighbourhood as a wife and a mother of two children, Anne Line Dalsgaard describes women's motives for accepting
and often actively seeking sterilisation. Through a vivid and thoughtful analysis she shows sterilisation to be both a symptom of structural constraints and a resource - a means by which women gain a sense of control over their lives.
The major theoretical contribution of the book is its demonstration of the ways in which phenomenology can be used as a tool in critical social analysis.
Through a focus on the basic human need for recognition Dalsgaard describes women's desire to be valuable in other people's opinion and the dependency
on others that this desire implies. By linking fertility and sterilisation to existential dilemmas of autonomy and dependency, she ties individual agency, hopes and longings to historical processes and forces of power and economy, and thus moves away from simplistic dichotomies of mind/body, history/biography.
Matters of Life and Longing is a lucid and accessible work, which will be of interest to a wide and varied audience with an interest in Latin America, reproductive health, gender studies or anthropological discussions on agency and motivation.
Anne Line Dalsgaard is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Aarhus, Denmark.
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